Charli Mandel (she/they) on the World’s VERY FIRST Fixed Gear Brakeless Everesting

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Documentary: Fixed up – A Terrible IdeaCycling Tips Article: Everesting on a Fixie with a Hormone Headwind

Transcription

Arielle: It’s hard to know which one Charli Mandel learned first: how to walk, or how to ride a bike. 

You know, come to think of it, you probably need to be able to walk before you can learn how to ride a bike… but if it were possible to ride a bike first, I’m pretty sure Charli would have done it.

Because from the time she was itty bitty teeny tiny, Charli. Loved. Bikes. Starting at just 4 years old on a little Rhino Racer mini, they would eventually go on to set their very own world record. 

This episode mentions transphobia, misgendering, and biking injuries

This is Charli Mandel on the World’s VERY FIRST Fixed Gear Brakeless Everesting

Not sure what that means? I didn’t at first either, but that’s what this interview is for, silly billy! Looks like you came to the right place…

Hi, there! I’m here today with Charli Mandel, who uses she or they pronouns. Uh, Charli, why don’t you kick us off by sharing a little bit about yourself?

Charli: Hi. Where to begin. I’m currently a bike courier in Denver, Colorado. A couple years ago, I completed the world’s first fixed gear brakeless Everesting. Which I can explain later on, as I’m sure that’s a lot of very niche bike jargon. 

Arielle: So, I’m super fascinated to hear about your cycling career. You mentioned that you’re into bikes, um, you have this world record. So first off, before we get into any of that, how did you get into biking? Give me some background info there.

Charli: I was about 4 years old when I took the training wheels off. It was a little Rhino Racer mini. I think when I was 6, I graduated from that to a little mini BMX. Parents gave me that and one of those black plastic ramps for my birthday. And I was just kind of hooked from there. Like, my dad would take me to skate parks on the weekends, and um, I’d like, learn the basics of jumping and whatnot. 

And um, from there, got into BMX racing in middle school. You know, that uh, dirt track stuff where you’re racing like 6 other people. Gets pretty rowdy. Pretty fun. That turned into dirt jumping and mountain bike racing in high school. I was actually lucky to go to a high school that had a mountain bike team, so that was kind of my main social group those four years.

About mid way through high school, built my first fixed gear around this road bike frame that I got for like 40 bucks on Craigslist. Built it up with some ridiculous orange rims and other colorful parts. That bike first got me into Alleycat racing, which — for those who aren’t really in the know — is a not very legal, not very safe form of racing, usually put on by bike messengers where you, umm, usually get a set of checkpoints around a city that you have to hit in generally no particular order… like, a lot of it comes down to your choice of routing, so it’s kind of a test of your messenger skills… which, I mean, at that point, I was taking a bus from Boulder to Denver to go race and, like, I did not know my way around Denver, so I would just kinda pick a fast-looking messenger and try and chase them. 

Yeah, somehow convinced my mom to, like, let me just go do these races. Definitely achieved that through some selective omission of information.

Arielle: (laughs) As we do as teenagers…

Charli: Like, yeah, I’m just going to do this, like, umm, scavenger hunt-style bike race…

Arielle: (laughs)

Charli: it’s umm… not really race. Don’t worry about that. And uhh, this older friend who you know will be there, so it’s all good. Definitely not gonna go, like, drink beers and smoke weed with a bunch of bike messengers and, like, run red lights and skitch on cars and shit. Definitely not at all.

Arielle: That’s very teenager.

Charli: Oh, yeah. Yeah. So, around that same time, I also started delivering for Jimmy John’s in Boulder, on my bike. So, that was my first, like, courrier-slash-delivery job. Really loved that. Just, you know, getting paid to ride my bike, can’t really argue with that.

Arielle: Yeah.

Charli: Went off to college, got into some different fields of more official racing. Started racing road, cyclocross–actually when I first started racing cross, I, like, didn’t have a proper cross bike, so I just threw some knobby tires on my fixed gear and called it good. Actually, ended up getting disqualified from one race, and that was probably one of my proudest moments. 

Arielle: (laughs)

Charli: Are you familiar with cyclocross? Is that, like, this is probably kind of niche?

Arielle: Not like, super familiar, but I’m tracking thus far.

Charli: Okay, cool. So, cross is kind of like, steeplechase on a bike, I guess. You’ve got a bike that mostly resembles a road bike, but has clearance for wider tires. The course is kind of like a mountain bike course, but with a lot more grass and sharp turns and barriers that you have to get off and run over and steep, loose sections that you have to get off and run up. Just, crazy stuff like that. 

So, coming into college, I did not have a cross bike, and umm, at this point, tracklocross wasn’t really a thing yet—tracklocross being official fixed gear cyclocross. I guess I was kind of early to the party on that one, ended up doing pretty decent on like, a number of low level USAC cross races. I think the last race of the season was a little bit more official. There were UCI officials there, and turns out, in the official USAC cyclocross regulations, you kind of have to have like, a freewheel and brakes. 

So, did this race, and while I’m racing, there’s people from my collegiate team, and other teams around the course like, “yeah, fixie!” And I’m running across the barriers and they’d be, like, “hey, why are the pedals still turning?” cause I was on a fixed gear. Shit, I should probably explain that, too, right?

Arielle: Yeah, perhaps. I have in my notes, I was like, “fixed gear, question mark?”

Charli: Ok, so you know how, on a regular bike, if you stop pedaling, you can just coast.

Arielle: Yes.

Charli: Like, there’s a free wheel. So, fixed gear means that there’s no free wheel mechanism, like, the cog is just attached right to the hub. So, whenever the rear wheel’s spinning, the cranks are spinning. You don’t necessarily need rim brakes on it, cause you can slow down by resisting rotation of the pedals or even, if you have like, pedals that you clip into which, you know, you really should, you can pull up on your front pedal, and push down on your back pedal, and just make the rear tires skid… which, you know, takes some effort…

Arielle: Yeah, totally.

Charli: But, yeah, it’s doable.

Arielle: So that means that you need to be pedaling the whole time?

Charli: Yeah, exactly.

Arielle: So, when the people were saying, like, wait why are they still turning, it’s because you didn’t have a fixed gear, or because you did?

Charli: Um, cause I did. I was carrying the bike, and there was still momentum going, so my pedals were still spinning. So anyway, we finish up this race, and coming into the finishing straight, there was some, like, middle aged dude…

Arielle: (laughs)

Charli: Just kind of like, blocking me, and we were coming through this kind of tight, woodsy section. He’s in front of me, and we get out onto the final straight and I, like, sprint in front of him, and kind of obnoxiously skidded across the finish line and I think that kind of clinched it. 

(both laugh)

Like, the officials were not stoked. Went and hung out with my friends on the UVM cycling team, and one of my friends comes up and is like, “hey, I think the officials are looking for you.” So, like, I put on my friend’s jacket over my very recognizable, umm, patched up denim metal vest, and handed my bike off to my other friend, and just, like, walked back to our vans. 

And apparently when my friend was bringing my bike back, one of the officials stopped her—well, two officials I guess—one of them was like, “hey, that’s the bike!” And, umm, like, “hey, whose bike is that?” and Melissa was like, “oh, umm, it’s just a…just a  team bike, umm, don’t worry about it, I’m just gonna go back to the vans.”

Yeah, so, I would have gotten third place in my collegiate category, but I got disqualified.

Arielle: Oh, so this is the race you were talking about earlier where you were disqualified, like, proudest moment kind of thing?

Charli: Yeah, yeah.

Arielle: That’s really funny. So, I mean, the way that you talk about, like, cycling world, I know that a lot of these hobbies and interests have sort of a community that they’re built around. And I sort of think about it, like, in terms of — I’m super involved in coffee community, and it’s super connected and communal, and people know each other, and I’m curious to hear if there is sort of like a cycling world parallel to that, and I’m curious to hear what that community is like?

Charli: Oh, absolutely, I mean like, there’s… there are a multitude of different cycling communities. I’d say the first ones I really got into were my mountain bike team, of course, I mean that was my high school social group. All of us Boulder High mountain bike kids were hanging out in my coach’s room during lunch and just, like, watch mountain bike videos, geek out over parts, just be bike nerds, basically.

Second community was the alleycat race scene, those messengers. I mean, that stuck with me, too, like, I went off to college, and yeah, still didn’t really know what I was doing with my life. So, I hit up Rob, who had been kind of my alleycat dad, I guess, and like, long-time Denver messenger, and just kind of asked him, like, “do you have a line on any messenger work in Denver?” And he set me up with Nick at Confluence, and I’ve been there since. 

But yeah, that community… it’s definitely a fair bit different from the, like, sanctioned road race scene. You know, it’s not all about, like, who has the fanciest parts, who has the nicest kit. Definitely a lot less elitist, a lot more punk-rock, I guess. To give an example of that, like, back in those alleycat race days—I say “back in the day,” but like, I guess that’s just cause there hasn’t really been racing in over a year, which is a bummer.

Arielle: Oh, COVID. 

Charli: Oh, yeah. But anyway, there’s kind of a running joke that “alleycat doping” was, like, showing up with a full night’s sleep, having eaten something, not being drunk or stoned, so definitely a different world of racing, for sure. And just a bunch of bike messengers, racing around the city on fixed gears, in jorts and t-shirts.

Arielle: That’s an image (laughs)

Charli: Oh, yeah. 

(both laugh)

Yeah, so I went from that to the University of Vermont cycling team, which I guess was sort of a synthesis of the team culture at Boulder High, and also kind of that, like, messenger, rowdy, punk-rock, anti-establishment-ness, like, UVM Cycling was kind of, I guess, most hated but also most loved team in our conference.

Arielle: Ha, why was that?

Charli: I don’t know. Let’s see. Where to begin.

Arielle: (laughs)

Charli: (clicked tongue, sighs) Okay yeah, so. When I showed up to UVM my freshman year, and I think I was sporting at that point a mullet that my friend had chopped on his porch the night before some mountain bike race, rocking jorts… just, you know, being my rowdy self, and fit right in there. And like, UVM cycling was a great group of friends, great bunch of cyclists, and kind of my lifeline through college. 

Yeah, so like, even though it was kind of that, like, I mean not same but similar, like, rowdy team culture… that was also when I first got into really training for cycling. Kind of started to take stuff seriously. Like, we had, I guess, a kind of semi-official team coach, and you know, that was the dude I would go out at 6 AM whether it was rainy and do hill-repeats with and do training rides in my living room, watching movies like Ichi the Killer—that was an interesting ride. 

You have, like, big team parties called Bike Prom, and that was actually, like, when I first, like, felt comfortable, like, wearing a dress, you know, trying out presenting femme, and yeah, just a really, you know, accepting bunch, just kind of a [inaudible] team culture.

Arielle: Did that sort of extend past that group of people, like, are there a lot of trans folks in cycling, are they generally accepting of trans folks in cycling, or is that particular to University of Vermont?

Charli: You know, it’s kind of hard to say, I mean, I feel like, in general, there is a lot of stigma against trans people in cycling, definitely varies depending on which community you’re in. Like, my current courrier community—absolutely great, like, could not ask for a better bunch of people to be around to transition. And if I’m having problems, like, people at one of my client restaurants started misgendering you, or whatever, I can just be like, “hey, can you talk to them or whoever about this, and they’ll be like, ‘yeah, for sure.’” 

Greater cycling world, though… that is… that’s a tough one.

Arielle: Mhmm.

Charli: I mean, like, yeah, the kind of underground race scene is definitely, I’d say, way better about it than the sanctioned race scene. In 2019, there was a whole tracklocross race series, and I won all four Denver races, went to Nationals, and got third place in the open category there. I mean, at that time, I didn’t really feel quite comfortable racing in the, I guess, loosely “women’s” category, but they structure it in a much more inclusive way where it’s not just “men” and “women,” but “open” which is mostly men, and then WTFNB, which is “women, trans femme, non-binary, whatever.”

Arielle: “WTFNB,” is that what you just said?

Charli: Yeah.

Arielle: That’s such a funny name for the category.

Charli: Yeah, it’s kind of like, cis men and anybody who wants to race them, and like. Everybody else.

Arielle: That’s a very funny abbreviation.

Charli: Yeah. Yeah, UVM cycling was really kind of where I first started discovering myself as a trans person. I don’t think I could ask for a more, like, fostering and welcoming environment. I mean, as I said before, the first time I really worse a dress and, like, presented myself as femme around other people was at Bike Prom. You know, everybody on the team was just kind of like, “yeah, do your thing.” 

First time I came out to anybody as trans was my two best friends on the team, Sammy and Maddie, when we were drunk in a motel room at cyclocross nationals. And I mean, like, that was of course a pretty tough time in terms of mental health, and that team was really my anchor.

Riding bikes has always been very helpful for me in terms of mental health. Like, if I’m feeling like shit, I’ll just go out for a ride, hurt for a while, you know, get those exercise endorphins, just kinda focus on riding, trying to not really think about much else. And then finish the ride, feel like I’ve accomplished something, and you know, feel decent for a while after, at least. So, just having that compulsory riding, and also that community of people who get me out there to, you know, do hill repeats, or go on mountain bikes, or go to race weekends, or whatever, was super helpful.

Arielle: Yeah, that sounds really powerful to have a community that was able to support you, and then also to have cycling be this thing that really positively impacts your mental health. Cause it sounds like, not only was this something that you love, but you also happen to be in a community that was able to meet you where you were at in terms of your gender exploration, while also being able to, you know, support your mental health through cycling and also through participating in something that you really love.

Charli: Yeah, exactly. I mean, like, we’d have Tuesday evening meetings, and that was always nice, because if I was just feeling like utter shit, I’d be like, “alright, well, gotta get out of your room, gotta go to the meeting, and then see all my friends, and talk about bikes,” and maybe I’d, like, go and get dinner with somebody after, be able to talk about stuff.

Arielle: That’s a very, uhh, are you familiar with DBT at all? Dialectical Behavior Therapy?

Charli: Umm, I’m familiar with CBT, is that similar, or?

Arielle: It’s related. So, that just reminds of DBT, because it’s the idea of feeling like shit, sitting in my room, don’t want to go anywhere, but like, also I know that it’ll help to go somewhere and be around people, it’s called “Opposite Action” and it just sorta made me think of it.

Charli: Okay, cool.

Arielle: (laughs) So, I know that you were surrounded by these supportive people, but before starting HRT, you were afraid of how it would impact your athletic performance. Can you talk a little bit about this?

Charli: Yeah, totally. I mean, like, prior to transitioning, it was definitely— I mean, I guess kind of the only mental block that I had, really, was like, “oh no, what if I get slower at bikes, my life will be over.” Ultimately, it wasn’t really that big a deal. You know, when you get onto HRT, your doctor’s all like, “alright, well this will decrease your muscle mass, and you’ll have to train harder to maintain the same level of fitness, and you don’t have the same, like, raw power, I guess, that you have with testosterone. 

So I guess I’ll get into my original planning of that track bike Everesting here, just cause it kind of ties in. So, first of all, an Everesting is this utterly horrible thing where you pick a hill, any old hill, mountain, segment thereof, and you ride up and down it, over and over and over, until your total vertical ascent is 29,029 vertical feet, which is the elevation of Mount Everest from sea level.

Arielle: Oh my god. So, to be clear, this was after you, uhh, went on HRT that you did this Everesting?

Charli: Well, so, I started planning it before I started HRT, it was just kind of a goal that was kicking around in the back of my mind. So I’d already done three Everestings on my geared road bike, all three of those back in Vermont. First one, I planned, like, three days beforehand. It was early July, I was hanging out with some bike team friends at UVM Cycling HQ, AKA my house at the time, and was talking about potentially doing a Fourth of July six gaps ride, which involves riding up and over six Vermont mountain passes. Usually ends up being, like, 120, 140 miles, about 14,000 vertical feet… 

And it just so happened that I was the only one who had that day off, so I was like, “well, shit, how can I go make my legs hurt solo?” Cause six gaps involves, like, a group of people, a support van… at that point, my friend Simone starts telling me about Everesting, and she’s like, “oh yeah, have you heard about this, like, dumb internet cycling challenge called ‘Everesting?’” and I’m like, “No, I have not. Tell me more.”

Arielle: (laughs) 

Charli: So, we start looking at segments, ultimately the side of a rather steep, I think, west side of the Appalachian Gap. It was something brutal, I think about 123 miles. I think around 14 hours elapsed.

Arielle: Of cycling, like, clean through?

Charli: 14 hours total, I think around, like, 12 or so on the bike. I could be mixing that up. Yeah, if memory serves, I started around 7 AM, finished around 9 PM. And that was also, like, relatively short as Everestings go. 

Did another one that same summer on Smuggler’s Notch.

Arielle: Oh, I went there once, a very very long time ago.

Charli: Number 3 was, umm, so I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Burlington Vermont.

Arielle: Uh, yes, but when I was, like, 5. 

Charli: My house my last two years of college was located at the bottom of the college street hill, and that was where I’d go to get to class, you know, just straight up the hill to campus, so I figured, “well, what better way to celebrate my graduation than by Everesting that hill?,” which was, woof, umm, that was really something (laughs).

I think this hill was like, less than a half mile at the bottom, it’s just potholes, all this shit, and then there’s an intersection with a stop sign, and kind of this steep section, and then an intersection with a traffic light, and then some more steepness. It kind of levels off at the top. I think there’s like maybe, yeah, there’s another intersection with a stop sign after the traffic light.

Arielle: So, are you — with the Everesting, are you able to stop at these intersections or do you have to go through them?

Charli: I think I probably ran that red light about 150 times that day.

Arielle: Oh my god.

Charli: Get to the top, turn around, going back down, and, you know, various points of the day, there was some traffic backed up at that light, so I’d be shooting this, like, five-or-so-foot gap between cars stopped at the light and cars parked at the side of the road. Get through the intersection, ride kind of like a similarly narrow stretch of road between the pothole hell…

Arielle: haha, pothole hell

Charli: …and more parked cars. So, that.. Yeah, that, umm, really wore on me after a while…

Arielle: Yeah.

Charli: Yeah, and at a certain point, you just get so mentally fatigued that you can kind of barely trust yourself to see cars really coming at the intersection.

Arielle: Oh my goodness. That’s scary.

Charli: So, that was pretty terrifying. Almost felt like calling it at one point, but then Patrick Murphy, aforementioned road coach slash friend, came out and brought me some more baby food pouches, rode with me for a while, kind of soldiering on after that.

Just shy of 200 miles…

Arielle: Oh my god…

Charli: 237 laps

Arielle: How long did that take you?

Charli: If memory serves, I think I started at like 7:30 AM and finished at about 4:30 AM. 

Arielle: Jeez. Wow.

Charli: Yeah. It was … it was really fucked. 

Arielle: Oh my god.

Charli: In the nighttimes, I was listening to…

Arielle: You say that so nonchalant, like, “yeah, it was pretty fucked”

(both laugh)

But you… let’s just like, name that, that is like, what, 21 hours?

Charli: Yeah, 21 hours elapsed.

Arielle: Jesus. That is wild.

Charli: And I had to go borrow another bike computer from my friend at like 11:30 PM, cause mine had died.

Arielle: The computer died before you stopped moving, like, that is fucking wild. 

Charli: Yeah, I remember, like, as the night wore on, I was just getting into some real weird places mentally. I think I was listening to this last podcast on The Left Saga about, like, the Oklahoma City bomber, brain just goes to some weird places when you’ve been doing that for that long.

Arielle: I can imagine. Cause you’re like, tired, but also have so much adrenaline pumping through you.

Charli: Yeah, it’s trippy. Last lap, I did in my graduation cap and gown and, like, took a selfie in this fountain up on campus. Drive back to my house, had some bong rips, called it a night.

Arielle: As one does.

Charli: That is Everesting. Course, I’ve always been into dumb fixed gear bullshit. So, of course I started doing Everestings, and my friends were like, “hey, so when are you gonna do it on a fixie?” and I was like, “yeah, no.”

Arielle: “fixie” is “fixed gear”?

Charli: Yeah, yeah. And, turns out there had been one, like, technically fixed gear Everesting completed by Joseph Kendrick in the UK. I saw that, and was like, he used a pretty easy gear ratio, and front brake, and took his feet off and just kind of coasted on the descent. So I was like, alright, well, shit—I guess I’ve gotta make that true words the definitions of both fixed gear and Everesting. Disclaimer here—no beef with Joseph Kendrick, he’s great.

Arielle: Yeah, you’re just being competitive. He did a fixed gear Everesting, you wanted to do it brakeless, as I understand.

Charli: Yeah, my thinking there was, if you’re using an easy gear ratio that you can climb on, and then just letting the pedals spin on the descent, that feels kind of just like, a very inconvenient single-speed. I was like—alright, well, I’ve got to pick a gear ratio that’s gonna be durable for the climb, but also not too spinny to pedal the whole last descent on. And it’s also gonna be on, you know, on a formidable mountain climb, cause it’s Colorado.

I was like, alright Joseph, I’m coming for your ass.

Arielle: (laughs)

Charli: I’m gonna do this on a 48:17 gear ratio—48 is the number of teeth on the chain rim, chain rim being the front gear that’s attached to the cranks, and 17 is the number on the cog—cog, being the rear one that’s attached to the hub.

Arielle: So, is that low resistance, is that high resistance?

Charli: It’s pretty much my standard gear ratio. Like, that’s what I ride for work, that’s what I ride for my jaunts through the mountains. And doing it without brakes, absolutely relying on resistance stopping, which makes it so that you have to expend energy slowing down, too. So like, not only are you having a whole descent, but you’re also putting in resistance against the pedals in order to slow down for the seven hairpins and various other sharp turns on the Lookout.

Arielle: So basically, no matter what you’re doing for this entire ride, you are expending energy. So, you know, braking is basically the same as pedaling.

Charli: Yeah, yeah, pretty much. Same, but opposite, I guess. So, for that one, I picked Lookout Mountain. Lookout Mountain is a pretty classic road climb outside Golden, Colorado. It’s about four and a half miles base to top, and gives you about twelve hundred seventy vertical feet elevation gain per lap. Evens out to, like, a pretty decent, like, steady grade, not too steep, not too shallow, cause you kind of want something that’s gonna give you elevation gain, and not too ridiculous of a distance, but of course, especially on the fixed gear, you want something that’s not gonna be so steep that you just can’t after five laps. 

So, September 2018, I was like, “okay, I think I’m gonna do this. First, I’m gonna do a half Everesting on that hill as sort of a trial run.” Goal for that day was eleven and a half laps or about 14,500 vertical feet. Through some trials and tribulations, and some second guessing, I did the damn thing in about eight hours. Felt decent about that. Legs weren’t terribly dead, so I was like, “alright, cool, guess I’ll do the full thing next Spring.” 

As luck would have it, an Everesting on Lookout would come out to 23 laps, and I’d be turning 23 on May 27. So, I was like, “cool, let’s do it on my birthday, then.” So, I started HRT in November 2018, and shortly thereafter, I just started feeling kind of weirdly weak on the bike. Just getting winded too easily, and you know, of course, at the time, I was like, “oh, shit, it’s HRT.” But of course, it was probably because I was overtraining myself, just working long career work weeks in the snow, probably not recovering correctly.

Arielle: Yeah, I mean, it could have been a combination of both, as well.

Charli: Yeah. For sure, for sure. In December, I’m riding to the bar with my friend, and we’re just kind of fucking around. He does a little skid, I do a little skid, and my front foot unclips from the pedal, goes under my front wheel, and I just flip over the bars, and just dive straight into the pavement.

Arielle: Oooh!

Charli: I get up. My first response is: “aw, man, I broke some spokes. My rear light’s broken.” Then, the adrenaline wears off a bit, and I realize, “oh, shit, my right shoulder feels pretty much just how it did when I severed my AC joint twice last year.” At that point I was like—oh, okay, my shit’s broken. We went from bar to emergency room.

Arielle: That’s a turn of events.

Charli: Waited there for about three hours, asked the person at reception like, “hey, so how long you think it might be?,” and they’re like, “oh, um, we’re not really sure, just give us some non-committal answer.

Arielle: Mhmm.

Charli: Some time passes, ask them again, like, “oh, you’re being fast-tracked” so I’m like, “cool?” And then, more time passes, more time, I’m like, “alright, fuck this, and it’s about midnight at that point, so just going home, smoke weed about it, go to urgent care in the morning—they’re like, “yep, your collarbone’s broken. Your AC joint’s separated. You’re gonna need surgery on that.

Arielle: Oh my god.

Charli: Yeah, so, got that surgery done December 27th.

Arielle: 2018?

Charli: Yeah, yeah. A few days thereafter, I was like, already kinda starting to lose my shit. I was just in that, like, very hormonal first stage of HRT.

Arielle: Mhmm.

Charli: And also not able to ride bikes, and also not able to work, and basically just doing nothing but, like, being in my own head. That was hell. So I was like, “alright, nope, nope nope nope nope nope. Need to get a stationary trainer so I can set my bike up, do some training, feel like I’m getting somewhere.” So, did that, got a smart trainer, which, you know, hooks up to your phone, you can change the resistance so that you’re doing certain power levels, you can hook that up to apps like, what I used was called “The Sufferfest.” They’ve got a number of training plans on there, and some interval workouts you can do, which interface directly with your trainer, so it’s like you’re watching this video and it’s taking you through these intervals, meanwhile it’s also talking to the trainer, and like, increasing or lowering resistance. So, that’s pretty cool. 

And during that, like, month or so of training, my daily schedule was like, wake up, feel okay-ish, and then just kind sink into this, like, pit of depression and suicidal ideation, and I’d be like, “nope, nope, nope. Get on the bike, get on the fucking bike, just do the thing, and do the workout,” and lo and behold, you know, feel less like a piece of shit. That got me through that period pretty damn well. 

Got back outside on the bike in… February, I think? Started out trying to balance those same trainer workouts with my work riding, and that just did not really work super well. So, I was like, “alright, no more trainer, I’m just gonna go, like, ride my track bike in the mountains.”

Then, May rolled around, and honestly, at that point, I was feeling like, kind of burnt out, cause I’d been, you know, doing a bunch of structured training, and then just doing a bunch of big ol’ fucko rides.

Arielle: While recovering from an injury.

Charli: Yeah, yeah. 

(both laugh)

Arielle: Let us not forget (laughs)

Charli: Yeah. I mean that… those first couple months of training, like, I don’t know if you’re familiar with cycling kit, like, fancy cycling clothing… but you have, like, those Licra shorts with the suspender straps, and I would just ride with just left strap up, cause my right shoulder just still hurt too much. I’d go out and rip five laps of Lookout, and then come back and work a courier shift. Yeah, it was pretty hardo mode then. 

Arielle: Yeah.

Charli: Yeah, I mean like, HRT did not have the immediate effect that I thought it would. Or, at very least I, like, freaked out about it…

Arielle: Mhmm.

Charli: …and just way over-corrected.

Arielle: Yeah, I mean I had a weird experience when I first started HRT where I would, like, I would always be the person that would be, like, putting away all the big heavy boxes at my store, and I over-extended myself, because I had lost, like, muscle mass, and I got a hernia from it, so…

Charli: Oh, no.

Arielle: I can imagine what that’s like as an athlete trying to exist and perform at the same level, but then like, trying to understand what your body is doing in relation to HRT while you’re also, like, recovering from an injury and trying to train all the time.

Charli: Yeah, it is, umm, it’s really something. In early May, I went out and tried to do an Everesting on my road bike, just kinda as like, a little trial run, just kinda test my fitness, see where I’m at. And at that point, I just had really kinda been focusing on the fixed gear, so honestly like, climbing in an easy gear on a road bike just felt slow and weird and bad. Was also having some kind of weird fit issues with that bike, and just get some real tension in my knee tendons. Ended up calling off that attempt, I think halfway through—I was like, “well, shit, that doesn’t bode well. 

Nevertheless, May 27th rolled around… Got out there with my friend Tori, who was filming, and my friend Parker, who’s sort of my best friend since, like, 5th grade. Got out to Lookout at about, I think, 4:30-something-AM on the morning of my birthday, and holy shit, what a day that was!

Arielle: Yeah?

Charli: Yeah. Umm. Cracked in that first lap I think in about 4:45 AM. Sun hadn’t risen yet, beautifully peaceful and quiet. There’s some deer up at the summit. Got that one done, kept hammering them out. I mean, I could go through the whole day, but instead I’ll just refer you to the documentary that my friend and I did and the written piece I did about it.

Arielle: What’s the name of the documentary?

Charli: “Everesting on a fixie with a hormone headwind”—that’s what they called it on CyclingTips.com, which is this, like, road bike news website.

Arielle: Ha! I love it

Charli: So anyway, first ten laps, I guess, went pretty damn well— and then, a little bit after the midway point, my stomach was just like, “nah, fuck you!” I was just sitting down at the car, just trying to revive myself. Eventually managed to just kind of force myself to eat, like, a tablespoon of peanut butter and drink a redbull and get back on the bike. 

Yeah, the couple laps after that were pretty rough, but you know, had in the back of my head that, “okay, Tori’s coming back, he’s gonna have Chevy butter for my tape, some more energy drinks, nutrition, and of course, the company of him and Parker.” So I was like, “alright, cool, keep going keep going, you’ve got this shit.” 

(makes treading noise with breath)

Kept on suffering through it, grinding away the laps. See, each one took me probably about 25 minutes on the climb, 10 or 15 on the descent. Started getting dark out, I only had a front light… somehow, Parker was able to source a rear light from a friend who lived on the mountain, so that was super lucky. Halfway down the descent of lap 20, my front light started to die, so I was just descending this windy mountain road with a dim, blinking, threatening-to-die light just like, “oh fuck.” 

So, got in the car, charged that for a while, did those last 3 laps. 22nd descent, about halfway down, I ripped a little skid, and my rear tire went “p-fffffff” (makes deflating noise)

Arielle: Oh, no-ho-ho!

Charli: Yeah. So, fortunately, I had a spare tire in the car, like, not just a tube, but a whole tire. Just called up Parker, I was like, “alright, hey, I’m at this set of switchbacks, my shit is flat.” So, they drove up, met me there, and I switched out the tire, and kept on going. 

I think somewhere between the summit of that lap and the start of the last one, it had kind of started to storm, like there was some pretty dramatic thunder and lightning going on, just beginnings of a rainshower, little bit of hail in the mix. Cracked into that last lap, just these blinding lightning flashes. I’ve got Sunn’s Life Metal in my earbuds, just the most transcendental shit that I’ve ever experienced on a bike.

Get to the top, finish the damn thing, hit end on my bike computer, get into the car… and, as we’re driving down the mountain, it starts just full-on pelting hail. Like, if I had finished even ten minutes later, I would have just been fucked.

Arielle: Oh my goodness. How many laps was it?

Charli: Uh, 23. 

Arielle: 23. And what’s the mileage there, do you know?

Charli: 208 miles and about 20 hours elapsed. 15 of those on the bike.

Arielle: Jeez. So that was the world’s very first Fixed Gear Brakeless Everesting, is that correct? 

Charli: Yeah, that’s correct.

Arielle: So, you know, on top of all the challenges that come with being a trans athlete in terms of, like, personal experience with HRT, there is also this sort of, like, political context, political climate of folks that frequently call into question our right to even exist within sports spaces. Um, this is obviously based on a huge lack of understanding, a lot of just fear about trans people, transphobia specifically, and, you know, more specifically transmisogyny, you know, people discriminating against transfeminine people.

And I’m curious to hear: A) if you had fears about, like, how folks would respond going into your world record, or, you know, going into starting HRT, and also like, what was the reality of your lived experiences, was there pushback after your record?

Charli: It’s a pretty fraught world for trans people in terms of sanctioned cycling racing. Like, I’ve had some very, very frustrating conversations with people in the comments sections about, like, regulations for trans women in World Cup downhill racing. And people just don’t understand shit, don’t want to learn shit… it, uhh, kinda fucking sucks. I mean, I haven’t really done much sanctioned racing as a woman. But honestly, I don’t know if I’ve really been super into that shit anyway.

As for people, like, calling that Everesting into question… I mean, I think if you do something like that, there’s not really a whole lot of people that are gonna shit talk it. Cause like, at this point, I mean, even a couple years down the line, it’s just me and one other dude who have done track bike Everestings. So like, you know, it’s some hard shit no matter your gender.

Arielle: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely.

Charli: I think on that Cycling Tips article, there was one comment, somebody who was like, “ha! Content like this is why I’m no longer a Cycling Tips Member. 

Arielle: Good riddance.

Charli: And I was honestly like, “alright, dude, don’t let the door hit you on the way out.”

Arielle: (laughs)

Charli: I’m like, “content like this is why I’m a member.” I was like, “alright, cool, that feels good.”

Arielle: Yeah, what I always think about when people comment shit like that on posts about trans people, I’m like, “alright, like, bye”

Charli: It’s like, “alright, cool, bye.”

Arielle: “Thanks for letting us know?” Question mark? Um? Yah, I mean I’m… I’m glad, and that’s a good point, about, you know, if you set a record like that, if you do something like that, like, it doesn’t matter your gender. Have those discussions, you know, against trans people in sports, have those generally pervaded—I know you don’t compete, necessarily, in a formal sort of way right now—but have those discussions that are transphobic in sports, have those entered the bike world in a significant way? 

Charli: I mean, honestly, it’s like kind of hard to say, cause my experience with those discussions is just online, and obviously that’s always gonna be a fair bit more toxic and volatile than the reality of the situation. I know, like, all the cyclists that I interact with are, like more than fine with trans people. That’s nice, I mean, it’s just kind of, like… distressing to know in the background that that shit is going on, and that there are those feelings out there, and that, like, trans women who do race at a high level get shit for it.

Arielle: Thank you so much for sharing about your experience. 

Charli:

Arielle: Yah, do you have any words of wisdom for the audience before we part, any advice for trans athletes specifically?

Charli: Don’t let any fears about, like, what might happen to your ability to participate in sport, or whatever, dissuade you from transitioning, because ultimately that’s gonna make you a lot happier than just, like, being fast at bikes, or whatever.

Arielle: Yeah. Totally.

Charli: Like, I don’t think I’m ever gonna touch my early HRT personal record on Lookout, but like, I don’t really give a fuck cause I don’t wanna die anymore. Ha. 

Arielle: Mhmm. Yeah, oh my god yes, yeah. I mean, nothing quite beats it, like, there are, for a lot of folks, there are sacrifices that are made—I quit musical theatre when I transitioned, and that was really heartbreaking, umm, a lot of folks do continue but, like, there’s a lot of spaces in this world that, you know, either there isn’t space or there is but it’s limited, umm, and I feel like a lot of trans folks, like, in some of our passions have to create space where there isn’t any.

Charli: Yeah, absolutely.

Arielle: I know that a lot of trans folks have experiences that sort of run parallel to those in any sort of passion that they may be pursuing before transition.

Charli: Yeah.

Arielle: Cool, and do you have any social media handles or payment information that you want to plug?

Charli: My instagram is @gnarli_xcx. G-n-a-r-l-i underscore x-c-x. My venmo is @charli-mandel

Arielle: Awesome, thank you. Um, do you have anything else you want to add? 

Charli: Umm, bikes are gay, pass it on.

Arielle: Fuck yeah, alright.

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