Doctor-in-Training - Interview with Kyleen

"Powerhouse" doesn't begin to describe Kyleen. She graduated from medical school last summer, and is now in residency training at the health clinic in Klamath Falls, Oregon to become board-certified in Family Medicine. Living in a small town helps Kyleen focus on rural healthcare, and her own connection to nature. "It's a dream come true to be able to mountain bike straight from my house!" she writes, describing her fifteen minute commute to the clinic. When she's not commuting, her dog, Oliver and partner, Josh, are her primary cycling buddies.  

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Living in a small town helps Kyleen focus on rural healthcare, and her own connection to nature.

What’s it like to ride in Klamath Falls?

The local mountain biking is awesome. Evening trail rides are a regular occurrence, and on my days off the Spence Mountain Trail Network is just 20 minutes away. I NEVER get stuck in traffic. And there is world-renowned biking 2-5 hours away like Bend, Oakridge, Hood River, and Tahoe.

The local bike community and trails really are a treasure, which helped convince my partner to move to the middle of nowhere with me for three years. It feels like we are on the verge of something big here, and it’s fun to be a part of it.

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"The local bike community and trails really are a treasure, which helped convince my partner to move to the middle of nowhere with me for three years."

What role does your bicycle play in your life?

What doesn’t my bike do?  My mountain bike does so many things for me - it’s fun, it’s therapy, it’s social, and it keeps my body strong and moving. My other bikes do this, plus provide free, eco-friendly transportation.

How do you fit in time for biking as a busy professional?

I ride my bike to work everyday. Residency can be pretty busy and very intense. A light week in the clinic is 50-60 hours, but weeks in the hospital are in the 70-80 hour range. So even if I’m too exhausted or out of time at the end of the day to exercise, I’ve at least had 30 minutes outside riding my bike. The hospital is up on a hill too, so at least one way I get a good leg workout! Then on the way home I just coast and relax and try to let go of some of the stress of the day.

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"My mountain bike does so many things for me - it’s fun, it’s therapy, it’s social, and it keeps my body strong and moving."

What happens when you arrive to work all sweaty?

I’ve heard women say they don’t know what to do about the whole thing where you sweat when you ride your bike. This does take a little planning - I usually pack deodorant and facial wipes (for sweaty areas), wear an athletic top, and change into dry clothes at my destination. I now tend to buy work clothes that pack easily! I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t mind showing up with rosy cheeks and a “natural” hairstyle. The physical, mental, and environmental benefits of bike commuting outweigh my desire to look perfectly polished.

What makes you more comfortable as a commuter?

I mitigate my risks with high-visibility clothing, lights, and paying close attention to the traffic around me. I study my route before I go, and if it’s complicated I use the bike mode on google maps and headphones to get turn-by-turn instructions while I’m riding. I had a lot of close calls in Seattle, between cars making turns across my lane without seeing me, or even once a pedestrian, nose in phone, stepping into the bike lane right in front of me as I was coming pretty fast downhill.

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What excites you about bike culture in Klamath Falls?

Within days of arriving in Klamath Falls, we'd been invited out on several different group rides. The bike community here is small but growing. I would describe it as inclusive and enthusiastic. My partner, Josh, got a job at one of the the local bike shops and quickly began leading group rides. I’ve brought quite a few girlfriends and female colleagues on these rides - and a lot of them come back!  

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"Within days of arriving in Klamath Falls, we'd been invited out on several different group rides."

We end the rides at the local pizza spot, Rodeo’s, which has delicious pizza by the slice and 120+ rotating craft beers. It’s my favorite kind of night! Last summer we had a big group ride on the North Umpqua trail - it took about 9 hours to cover 33 miles. It was… character building! Haha it was epic, beautiful, fun, and at the end we all collapsed into camp chairs around a cooler full of beer. When I was in Cheyenne, WY for a short stint I rode with a mountain bike club that ended each ride with a BBQ in the parking lot. This community aspect of mountain biking is one of my favorite parts.  

What keeps you coming back for more?

Mountain biking is just plain addictive.  I’ve heard that for people to adopt a healthy, active lifestyle, they are most successful if they pick an active hobby that includes an element of mastery. This absolutely describes my relationship with mountain biking.  I’ve done a lot of different sports and outdoor activities, and mountain biking is by far the most intense workout I’ve ever done - the hills are steep, and full of obstacles like roots and rocks. But navigating those obstacles requires skill and focus, which takes your mind off the physical difficulty and breaks up the monotony of pedaling uphill.

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It’s very satisfying to improve, and clear a section you couldn’t do the week before. And then when you go downhill - you literally fly! It’s not all about speed though...I love picking my line through the obstacles - bouncing over rocks and going over little drops! It is so overwhelmingly fun that you completely forget how hard it was to get to the top of the mountain.

When people talk about flow-state, I think about mountain biking. And it’s efficient - whenever I’m hiking, on the way down I can’t help but look at the trail and imagine how much faster and more fun it would be on my bike!

Tell us about growing up in Alaska, and how it shaped you as a person/cyclist.

I grew up in Ketchikan, Alaska (with Olivia, if you didn’t know!) It’s hard to describe how beautiful and wild Southeast Alaska is… now I feel like having nature in my life is as necessary as having food and water.  I think it has also expanded my comfort zone as far as riding conditions - people are often shocked that I bike in the cold or the rain or the snow… but I grew up in a culture where you just did that kind of thing!

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"People are often shocked that I bike in the cold… but I grew up in a culture where you just did that kind of thing!"

I try to explain to people that during youth soccer league, parents would stay in their cars to watch the games and honk their horns when kids scored goals, because it was too cold and rainy to stand outside and watch. But not too cold and rainy for us hearty kids to run around and have fun!  

But really the secret to riding in the elements is to dress for it. My favorite pieces of gear include a high visibility rain/windproof jacket, waterproof camel-style mittens, and a wool buff. Layers are key, because once you get moving you warm up pretty quick!

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"Layers are key, because once you get moving you warm up pretty quick!"

What are some challenges you’ve experienced with cycling?

As physically difficult as some trails can be, it’s the mental part of mountain biking that is the most challenging. Crashing is part of the sport. I’ve never had a serious physical injury, but after a crash I find my confidence and courage take a big hit. This can feel frustrating at times when I feel like fear is holding me back from riding my best, but I just try to refocus on why I ride - for fun! Eventually I swing back the other way and feel like a rockstar.

Has your risk-taking changed over time as a mountain biker?

Overall, I’ve become a more conservative biker over the years. I think this is a combination of more frontal lobe development, and working in the hospital seeing the fragility of human bodies. When I first started riding, I got the advice that “if you’re not falling, you aren’t pushing it enough” More recently I was on a women’s group ride, and the leader said, “If it’s more fear than fun, don’t do it!” which I really appreciate, and is closer to my philosophy now.  Also, for harder downhill rides, I’m quite addicted to my knee and elbow pads!

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"I’ve become a more conservative biker... I think this is a combination of frontal lobe development, and working in the hospital seeing the fragility of human bodies." 

Any big dreams for the future?

My dream for the future is evolving - I like the things I do now, and hope to continue carving out a career in medicine that focuses on a holistic approach to health for individuals and communities.

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