We were lucky enough to catch up with Leslie Long, trip leader at Lizard Head Cycling Guides, which leads mountain and road bike tours around the west. She talks with us about their best trips, finding a career in the outdoors, and why cycling is just great.
When and why did you start guiding for Lizard Head?
About 10 years ago, I realized that the career path that I was headed on would not work for me. I was finishing a Masters degree in Plant Pathology in Pennsylvania and I felt depressed about working in the research lab day after day on project that felt meaningless. I decided to go to Colorado for massage school. I moved to the mountains to ski and work and now I get to work while riding my bike! At the end of massage school, I remember asking my dad if he thought that I was a failure for not utilizing my other degrees. He looked at me and said “Are you kidding me? I envy you!” We have to the power to create the life that we want by making the choices to move ourselves closer to our dreams, and I am so thankful for the opportunities that have opened up for me.
I started working with Lizard Head Cycling Guides in 2011 as a massage therapist. I would join a few trips a year where I would get to ride along with the guests and then provide massage when we would arrive to our lodging for the evening. I loved being along on the tours and helping out where I could. Last year I was fortunate to join several tours and was asked if I would like to start guiding too. I have transitioned in to working full time for Lizard Head Cycling Guides either on tours as a guide/massage therapist, or in the office. I have am loving it.
What is one moment from one trip that’s really stuck with you?
There was a father and son who had never been on a cycling tour before. The son was in his 20’s and was a strong rider. His dad was strong too, he just didn’t know it. Each day of the tour was a personal record for the dad in distance and climbing. His son was so patient, he would ride with his dad and keep him going. It was really neat to see the close relationship that they have, and how the son took such good care of his dad. The dad was surprised each day at what he had accomplished. I love seeing people grow beyond what they had believed was their limit.
What do you love about cycling and cycling trips?
There are so many things to love about cycling! Being able to see the fully see the endless variety of rock formations in the desert, smelling the sagebrush, hearing the birds, feeling the wind. The time to think, to clear your mind. I love that cycling keeps people young. You can push and challenge yourself or take it easy. I grew up in place where people start acting “old” in their 30’s. I am so inspired by folks still riding so strong in their late 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. There is a lot to learn about the dedication that they have cultivated over the years in taking care of themselves through regular exercise and nutrition. We had a couple who came on a 2 week tour in Colorado and they rode every inch of the 750 plus mountainous miles and they were 70! It drives me crazy when people will say that they are “too old” for something. Not true unless you believe it is. Spending all of that time outside is so good for the mind and soul.
What’s your favorite route to guide?
I am in love with Utah. You could spend a lifetime exploring the red rock landscape and only see a fraction of it. My favorite tours are both in Utah – the Redrock Canyons Tour (we ride through amazing desert landscapes including Monument Valley) and the Utah Mountains & National Parks (Capital Reef, Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks). I love to keep going back to the same places throughout the spring, summer and fall and see how the flowers, vegetation, flow of the water and angle of the light changes.
If you could lead a cycling trip anywhere in the world (or just go on one), where would it be?
I would love to ride travel around Chile on a bike.
Do you ever zone out when you’re going down hills?
It actually took me awhile to get comfortable going downhill with a little bit of speed, but now I love it. I have learned so much by riding with others who are more experienced. I do zone out on long, flat, straight sections of road.
What about your job keeps you happy?
I get to work with some pretty awesome human beings –coworkers and guests. I have learned a ton from, and have much more to learn from my coworkers at Lizard Head Cycling Guides. They are strong, confident, intelligent guides who I really admire. Our guests are really special too. They’ve got it figured out – ride your bike, be outside, be happy. I used to feel a little sad at the end of a tour – having just spent the week with a group, cycling through some of the most beautiful places that you can reach on a bike, bonding over hard climbs, stiff headwinds and occasionally adverse weather – thinking that I may not ever get to spend time with them again. As I started working on more tours, I realized that so many of our guests come back year after year and now I am so fortunate to get to spend my tour weeks cycling with the friends that I have made. I love the outdoors , and it’s such an honor to be part of a guests vacation week and share these amazing landscapes of the west with them. This job doesn’t feel like a job. I am so thankful for this work.
What’s next for Lizard Head?
Lizard Head Cycling Guides has purchased a fleet of Scott Chubby bikes for 2016 and, for folks who sign up before the New Year, is including them for free on the new Trans Utah Mountain Bike Expedition, Crested Butte Single Track MTB Tour, Colorado Trail MTB Tour, and Big Bend MTB Tour. These are 27.5 sized wheels with 3 inch wide tires.
Much as fat skis revolutionized the ski industry, the bike industry is about to be remade by the fat bike wave. Although you may have seen a fat bike, Chubby Bikes are hitting the market in 2016. These are 3 inch wide tires, versus the 4 inch wide monster truck tires of fat bikes. So these are the equivalent of a “mid-fat” ski. Chubby bikes eat up the loose and rocky like fat skis eat up crud snow. They inspire confidence, provide increased stability and give amazing traction.
In essence Chubby Bikes ramp up the fun factor, making riders with intermediate technical ability feel confident in loose or rocky terrain.
In addition to the Trans Utah MTB Expedition, we are offering 4 other brand new tours for 2016, including Nova Scotia, the Natchez Trace Parkway, a North Woods & Lake Superior tour, and a San Juan Islands Sea-2-Sky tour. I’m pretty excited about the North Woods tour. It’s going to boast silky rollercoaster-esk blacktop, cheese, beer, lumberjack shows, and cook outs.
Why is cycling a great sport for women? Tips for people looking to get into it?
Women can be really strong on the bike. Some women may not have grown up playing sports, and may not be aware of what their bodies are capable of and therefore may not entertain the idea of riding 20 to 100 plus miles in a day. Women have incredible endurance and cycling is the perfect activity to show yourself just what you are capable of doing – and it’s so much fun! My first time on a road bike was the first time that I came on a Lizard Head Tour. I was apprehensive about how far I might be able to ride, and about using the clipless pedals, but I totally surprised myself. I immediately fell in love with cycling – it felt as if I were flying.
A cycling tour is great way to get more into cycling. I think that women can be intimated from tours because they think that they won’t be able to keep up with the group, but it’s not a race. We like to tell our guests “If you are moving, you are going fast enough”. Cycling is awesome because you can just keep going and going simply by taking short breaks, refueling and keeping yourself hydrated.