This piece originally ran on the original Have Bicycle Will Travel blog years ago. Since then, Sally has retired from racing, but found a new passion -- teaching mountain bike skills clinics under her Sundance banner. Check her out at http://sundancemtbskillsclinic.com.
When it comes to riding partners, my absolute favorite may be a 5-foot spitfire named Sally Marchand Collins. From century rides on the road to fast, technical singletrack adventures, Sally always has a huge smile on her face and words of encouragement for anyone struggling to stay on her wheel – which is to say, almost everyone. Despite barely being tall enough to ride the big kids’ rides at King’s Island, not only can Sally drop most riders at will, but I’ve also seen her push riders twice as large up steep mountains.
Sally has won countless 24-hour mountain bike races and endurance events, even standing on a world championship podium in 2007 and earning a third-place in the Race Across America (RAAM) co-ed team division. Unfortunately, injuries have taken their toll, and so now she rides less for competition and more for fun and camaraderie. She travels as much, if not more, than in her racing heyday, driving from her Hoosier home to the far corners of the country in search of singletrack. Sally often logs up to 20,000 miles a year in the Winnebago she shares with her adorable pooch, Charley.
Have you always been a big traveler?
I didn't fly in a plane until I was 21 years of age; after that, I was hooked. My sister moved out west, and the traveling began.
Did your parents instill a love of travel in you at an early age?
Yes. Every summer, my family would pack up our pickup truck and camper and travel, usually to the east coast to visit extended family. As a kid, our trips seemed to last all summer long. I just loved seeing new places and people. Traveling with five kids in an extended-cab pickup truck was never boring, (although) my parents might beg to differ. Today I take my parents on several trips a year. Whenever I travel by myself, I think about how much fun they would have if they were with me. It’s much more fun to travel with them.
How long have you been riding seriously?
In 2001 when my husband passed away, I needed something to take the sadness away, so I started doing century rides with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society's Team in Training program. I did several century rides that summer; I made many friends that helped me through the sadness. In 2002, I signed up for my first mountain bike race with the Doing Indiana Outdoors (DINO) series, and I was hooked on racing. The best part about the racing scene was making many new friends! They made the experience even more enjoyable and rewarding.
What attracted you to the bike?
Growing up in Thorntown, Indiana, my brother Allen and I would jump on our single-speed bikes and ride all over Boone County, Indiana, including the dirt trails in our 9-acre woods. This played havoc on the bikes, which weren’t meant for rough riding.
When I rode my bike, I was often moved by things I saw: sunrises, sunsets, wildlife, or clouds that looked like mountains.
Then my sister Nancy and her husband Ron moved to Utah for their doctoral program at Utah State University. They sent pictures from their weekend bike rides. The mountains in the distance were real! I wanted to experience bike riding in the mountains, moving beyond the cornfields and hills of Indiana.
When did you realize your impressive talent on the bike?
Ha, that made me laugh! I'm just a regular girl who loves to ride bikes!
It all started because of the DINO series races. I started in the CAT 3 races, with many hematomas, bruises, cuts, and broken helmets. I later found out I had too much air in my tires; I felt like I was on a hippity hop.
I traveled up the categories to CAT 1 racing all over the US. I needed more than a 1.5 hr hour race so I signed up for my first 12-hour race. After the race, I ran up to get my award. My friends were surprised that I wasn't tired. That's when I decided to try a 24-hour race; my friends thought I was nuts.
My dream was to race in Moab, Utah, a place my late husband and I fell in love with. We heard about the 24-hour race while vacationing there. I decided this would be my first solo 24-hour race. I went there not knowing a soul. I sent up my tent on the racecourse and was later interviewed by a race promoter who was shocked that I was doing this race completely alone. The race was quite intense; after 16 hours on the bike, each lap I made turned into who needed my help and encouragement. My goal moved to helping others and seeing the sunrise. When I finished the race, the Canadians and Australians who camped next to me said, “You need support, but have what it takes." I made so many new friends that weekend; I knew I had to do this again.
Describe your experience doing the Race Across America.
My teammates -- David Greene, Dave Tanner and Alfonso "Tito" Perez -- were the best part of this race! They included. I was asked to be the female rider for their team months before the race. Our goals were to be safe, have fun and be friends at the end of the race. It was truly one of the greatest times in my life.
During a short period in the race, we experienced temperature changes from 115 degrees in Death Valley to 18 degrees near Taos, New Mexico. There were times when we were riding through Kansas that the strong winds threw me around like a ragdoll. I remember standing on the pedals trying to sprint downhill at 9 mph. I yelled at the wind, "Is this all you got?"
Dave Greene and I decided to take a back-to-back 2-hour shift so the other guys could rest. They were inspired by our willingness to take over, with no rest. We were in Sedona, Arizona. It was breathtaking! Rather than focus on the pain in our bodies, we climbed Oak Creek Canyon on our way to Flagstaff. It was a magical moment that strengthened our bond as teammates.
Arriving in Bloomington, Ind., with all my friends and family was true bliss! It is sad to say, we got lost in our own state. We had to backtrack a bit. Thanks to Tom Talbert who helped steer us in the right direction. The hardest part about that part of the ride was that we had no sleep. We were too excited to see our loved ones. We were indeed lucky! No wrecks or flats with over 3,050 miles and 7 days, 4 hours, 59 minutes.
What were some of the sights you took in while on the bike? Did you have time to appreciate the experience while you were competing?
The only sights we had were out the window when you weren't sprinting your leg of the race.
The moments I cherish most was looking up and being face-to-face with the Rocky Mountains. Our chase vehicle had a loud speaker on it and they played, John Denver's song “Rocky Mountain High.” The song coupled with the view made me cry like a baby.
Crossing over the bridge of the Mississippi on the bike was a hoot! Seeing Indiana underwater due to a flood days before was certainly something I will never forget. Riding through Gettysburg was quite surreal, and so was riding down a mountain pass in Arizona into corners at high speeds.
You’re probably riding almost as much when you were competing more. Did the injuries cause you to back off racing?
Yes, the injuries kept me off the high intensity workouts. 24+ hours of training a week to a mere 8 hours per week was troublesome. I had to pull out of my race season. While I was injured, I tried to find the positives in not racing. I found another love — coaching women who were learning mountain biking skills. I have taken on coaching at Sub-9’s Midwest Women's Mountain Bike Clinic each year in Brown County, the Copper Harbor Women's Clinic in Michigan, and in private lessons for both men and women. I prefer the beginner-to-intermediate riders. They are so passionate, seem to listen and acquire the skills more quickly.
You’re probably the toughest cyclist I know – you’ve been riding with various injuries over the last year or two, but I’ve never once heard you complain. In fact, you always seem to be smiling. How do you do it?
When I get on the bike, a smile appears. When I am off the bike, I am thinking about biking so a smile appears!
I surround myself with people who inspire me, care for one another, and make me laugh. When I ride with my friends who have endured intense challenges in their lives, I am inspired -- from a heart transplant, loss of limb, cancer, severe migraines, to broken bones. I can't complain given the adversities they’ve faced and continue to face. I am happy to be alive and if I can make someone else smile, then it's been a great day. I take what life hands me and try to find the positives in it. With my own injuries, I found my friends were supportive; they rode easy with me when I had to step down to heal my body. I do have great friends, that’s for sure.
Is it more fun to ride without the pressure of racing?
Honestly, yes! Riding with friends is the icing on a cupcake! When I look back at all the races I have done, I don't remember standing on the podiums. I remember the friendships I made along the way. I remember sharing a slice of watermelon with a racer on the backside of the world championship racecourse in Monterey, California because he noticed it in the back pocket of my jersey. I remember helping a guy named Jesse who lost his lights on the backside of the racecourse in Moab who just needed someone to help him return to camp.
I do miss racing. I prefer riding with friends who make me laugh or challenge me. If you want to beat me in a race, send someone out who needs help; I will stop and help him or her even if it cost me the race. Life is better when shared!
Do you ride everywhere you travel?
Yes, I do. Even with a broken ankle, I was supposed to be racing in Gunnison, Colorado a few weeks later. With the time off work, I decided to head to Michigan's Upper Penninsula and brought my Surly single speed with me to get around. I had the best time riding around Mackinac Island with my boot on. My goal is to ride and/or race in every state.
Where are you going next with races or riding?
I am finally injury free! I am so excited about training again! I am looking forward to some fat tire races this winter in Michigan and Colorado and then a 6-hour race in Florida. I hope to get some riding in this winter in Florida, Chattanooga, Dupont and Pisgah. I have a few 24-hour races to hit this coming year overseas and a stage race in Costa Rica. In June, my favorite ride is the 100-mile bike ride around Lake Tahoe that I help coach, along with a few other friends; this ride really gives me a true purpose. Coaching for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society's Team in Training (TNT) is very rewarding. Their inspiration moves me! This year will be my friend Carl Sygiel's 10th year riding America's Most Beautiful Bike ride. I can’t wait.
How often are you on the road?
It is in my blood to travel. If I get all my chores done around the house through the week, I take off each weekend for a glorious ride. I try to grab friends whenever possible. Most times, trips are last-minute decisions because I travel to where there is no rain in the forecast.
Do you always take the RV?
Through the winter months, I don’t take the RV. As soon as weather looks promising, I get it ready for travel in the early spring through late fall. I have a small trailer I pull behind the RV that holds lots of bikes and spare parts. I am always willing to help others with materials they might need.
What bike-touring trips are in your future?
I would love to do the hut-to-hut ride in Colorado with a group of friends. Race and/or Ride from Canada to Mexico on the Continental Divide trail. I also dream about going on one of those Backroads travel bike trips, sip wine in France or Switzerland, and enjoy a pint in Belgium.
Who’s your favorite traveling companion? Why?
Charley, my dog! Since I am single, traveling with my dog makes me feel safe; he is always up for a trail run at any given time. I can be driving for 16 hours straight, stop at some random trail along the way, and he can make me wake up with his happy-go-lucky spirit! He is always in every “staged” picture I take on my travels.
When you visit a Moab or a Durango, do you typically know people who already live there already?
I usually don't know anyone when I arrive. Facebook makes it easy to meet people. Your friends see you headed somewhere and they know someone there, and bam, you have some cool local folks to show you the trails. That was exactly what happened on one of my favorite trips.
When I left my niece in Boulder, Col., for her second year at college, I took off for Steamboat Springs. When I arrived, I found a place to camp and hit the first bike store for a map of the trails. When one of my friends saw I was in her hometown, she told me look up her friend, Tara, who knew the trails. We met for dinner and a brew. A group of six mountain bikers walked in. Tara helped them earlier that day while they were on the trails. The next thing I know, I am joining them in the morning to ride the trails. These guys had been taking weeklong mountain bike trips for 19 years. They were a hoot! We spent the next five days riding every trail in the area and meeting for dinner afterwards. They were like six older brothers protecting their little sister. I can't wait to ride with them next year.
If you’re traveling to a new place and don’t know anyone, how much research do you do beforehand?
If I am traveling with a group of great friends, they usually make the plans, which I love. I like to be a follower on our group trips! Usually the guys say where we are riding. I have to make decisions at work, so I like to let someone else be in charge and I always have fun! If I’m traveling alone, I usually have no plans. When I get to an intersection, I take it and see where the wind takes me. I always hit a bike store in any town I come across and ask which trails I should ride. Usually, once I get to the trailhead, a local person will show me around.
Funniest anecdote from your travels?
I was traveling back from the World championships in California with my brother Norm and my parents when we stopped at a truck stop to get gas and empty the sewage tank. Our windows were down and we were parked behind another camper who was emptying his sewage tank. He had no gloves on while performing this task. Several times he shook something off his hands that made us squirm. Then his buddy walked between our campers and asked him if he wanted a cookie. He reached his hand into a bag, took out a cookie, popped it into his mouth. We were all grossed out, but boy, did we laugh!
The scariest moment?
The day I was riding with Jeff Fetterer on Schooner Trace Trail when we were discussing a strange hissing noise. When I told Jeff it was coming from where I was standing, I bent down to look and 2 feet away I saw the fuzzy legs of a bobcat. I had trouble speaking. It didn't do anything. She was protecting her litter. I never want to be that close to a bobcat again!
The biggest surprise?
Stopping at The Cycle of Life bike store in Leadville, Colorado and I hearing, "Sally is that you?" I turned around and saw two dear friends, Roxanne and Ty Hall from Leadville. I hadn't seen them since my first 24-hour ride in Moab. They must have felt sorry for me. Word got around that I was a widow and racing unsupported; they made me feel at home.
My bear spray from Cooke City, Montana. I arrived in this sweet little town and asked where to ride some trails. The tall cowboy said, “Ma’am you are going to need bear spray.” So I spend $50 and he told me where the trails were. During my ride there, I kept looking over my shoulder for bears and freaking out over every bird that flew out of the trees. When I finally made it to the top of the mountain, the view was worth the scare. The 30-minute downhill ride was priceless!
Favorite local delicacy? Story behind it?
Twenty Tap (a local brewpub in Indianapolis) for their extensive selection of IPAs on tap!
Any traveling superstitions?
I have to bring my chainsaw just in case another tree is down in the road and I can't get through. If I don't bring it, there will be a tree down!
What’s your next adventure?
Hopefully a trip to Pisgah! It's always fun to stop in and see Jimi at the Hub and Pisgah Tavern.