overall, becoming the first female to complete the entire course. The win was particularly notable because it was Sonya’s first race in the developing world. Stage races in places like Nepal add a whole new level of discomfort to endurance mountain biking, from unusual foods (read: diarrhea) to nonexistent trail maintenance (read: dangerous) to substandard accommodations (read: filth). And, as Sonya learned on Thorong La Pass, there’s often no easy way out. “Sonya is not the type of racer who is going to compete on the same course over and over again to see if she can do it 20 seconds faster,” says three-time World Champion Endurance Mountain Biker Rebecca Rusch. “For her, it’s about discovery, both of the world and of her own capabilities. The bike is her tool for exploration.”
FACING DOWN FEAR
Breckenridge 100, a grueling course that climbs 13,719 feet in 100 miles. Shortly after, she won her first stage race, the six-day Breck Epic, in the co-ed duo division with her then-boyfriend. The two were subsequently invited to Brazil to compete in the inaugural seven-day Brasil Ride, where they took 3rd. It was an impressive start. “I felt like I’d finally found my niche,” Sonya says. “I love long rides—the adventure, the remoteness, being really far away from everything. It pushes me harder than anything ever has before.” Sonya would go on to compete in some of the longest, most extreme endurance mountain biking events in the U.S., including the seven-day Trans-Sylvania Mountain Bike Epic in Pennsylvania. Her notable wins include the 100-mile Baily Hundo in Colorado (twice), the 125-mile Vapor Trail in Colorado, the 100-mile Pierre’s Hole in Wyoming, and the 90-mile Julian Death March in California. She was a member of the Marathon USA World Championship Team in 2010 and 2011, and is the three-time 24-Hour National Champion. At the 2012 Yak Attack, Sonya not only made it up Thorong La Pass, she won the women’s race
In 2013, Sonya grappled with a different kind of fear when she registered for the inaugural Ayiti Ascent Stage Race in Haiti. She admits it was one race she nearly bailed on before even getting on the plane. “I was freaking out about security issues,” she says. “You just hear so many horrible things about Haiti on the news.” She stoked her courage by speaking with people who’d actually been there. They told her that the media blew Haiti’s danger risk out of proportion but that it was by no means a comfortable place. Sonya continued to go back and forth over the decision. Much like Thorong La Pass, backing out of her commitment wasn’t so simple. She knew that the race directors—and Haiti’s fledgling Ministry of Tourism—were counting on her participation. “So many people worked so hard to make that race happen and start an adventure tourism economy in Haiti,” Sonya says. “They needed big name riders to show up. I didn’t want to let them down.” Once again, Sonya decided that the only way out was through. In January, she got on her scheduled flight to Port-au-Prince. She was still afraid, but her risk ended up paying off. Sonya took 1st out of the 30 riders who braved the new event, and garnered international news coverage for Haiti as a mountain biking destination. “I’m better for having done it, but I’m still scared of
Haiti,” she says, “so I made sure to sign up for next year’s race, too.”
MAKING THE LIST Sonya doesn’t come from a family of boundarybreakers. She grew up in New Mexico, where her father worked as an engineer (and inspired her to pursue a Master’s Degree in Electrical Engineering and Bio Instrumentation). Her mother stayed home with Sonya and her younger brother. Sonya played soccer as a kid, then tennis in high school. She says her family was athletic, but not extreme—more recreational than competitive. Over coffee in Boulder, where Sonya now lives, she tells me that her grandfather hiked the Grand Canyon when he was 70. Her nonchalance over the feat suggests that her definition of extreme may be a bit out of line with the rest of ours. When I make that observation, she cracks a wide smile and tucks a stray piece of her long dark hair behind one ear. “Maybe,” she says. We don’t have much time to linger on the topic. After coffee, Sonya is off to Fruita to be filmed mountain biking for Elevation Outdoors magazine, and then headed to the Sea Otter Classic in California to run the booth for Ergon, where she works as Sales and Marketing Manager. When she’s not traveling, she’s on the bike 10–15 hours a week training for her next big race, the Mongolia Bike Challenge in September. For 2014, she’s considering the Trans Pyrenees, which she describes as completely wild and adventure-oriented. “It doesn’t even have race results,” she says, her brown eyes flashing. “The point is just to finish.” She found out about the Trans Pyrenees by Googling “hardest mountain biking races in the world,” and promptly added it to her ever-growing list of must-do endurance events. I can’t help but ask what else is on that list. Sonya starts to answer, and then pauses. She sets down her coffee and narrows her eyes. “You know, you don’t have to travel to the Third World,” she says. “You don’t even have to ride a bike. You just need to overcome the things that make you uncomfortable, that make you afraid. And that’s different for everyone.”
WAM • FALL | 2013 33
Master: Backpacking, Rock Climbing, & Mountain Biking. Travel to the Adirondacks, Get Fit for Alpine Adventure and Women's Winter Gear Revi...