Riding high | TheUnion.com

Riding high

The Union StaffRick Kalb, a 42-year-old financial adviser from Nevada City, started riding mountain bikes 10 years ago as a way to get into shape. This year he began riding competitively and won three races, including two victories in the Ragin' At the Ranch series at Donner Ski Ranch. But Kalb, and his wife Elizabeth, say mountain biking has brought him much more than just blue ribbons at the finish line.
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ick Kalb wasn’t much for sports growing up.

Sure, he played tennis now and then, but ever since peeling the shinguards from his socks after his final junior high soccer match, he had pretty much called it quits with athletics.

“I really hadn’t exercised since then,” said Kalb, a 42-year-old financial adviser by day and a mountain-biking enthusiast at play. “I really did more damage to my body than exercising.

“It just got to the point that I couldn’t fit into my suits anymore. And I was too cheap to buy new ones, so I’d have them let out and then, eventually, they wouldn’t fit again.”

It wasn’t like the guy was obese. At that time he was 6 feet, 2 inches tall and weighed around 185 pounds.

“But,” Kalb insists, “it was all in one spot. I’m not kidding at all. It was all right in my belly.”

What belly?

Since shedding 35 pounds, Kalb has transformed his torso and the rest of his body into a trim, powerful and healthy 150-pound physique.

Like most people wanting to slim down and shape up, Kalb first headed for the health clubs. He bench-pressed, he leg-lifted, and was dying from boredom.

“I probably went three to four rounds with the health club thing; the first time was 10 years ago,” he said. “I think for 99 percent of the people, it’s just boring.

“You have to find something you love, something that excites you. And whether it’s the best exercise or not doesn’t matter, because you’ll stick with it.”

Consider him stuck.

In the saddle

His clients, or for that matter anyone who visits his Spring Street office in Nevada City, can’t miss his new passion. It’s fewer than 10 feet away.

He can’t stand being without a set of wheels for a few hours – or at least it seems that way, as his road bike leans against his office wall.

As Kalb talks of this newfound love, his enthusiasm spills out through ink-pen drumrolls on his desktop. He talks fast and laughs a lot, a smile of satisfaction on his face throughout the conversation.

He’s found something special in the seat of a mountain bike – something that keeps him fit, lifts the lid on stressful days, and is immensely enjoyable. And, it’s something he’s pretty darn good at.

In this year alone, he took first place in his age division in three Northern California mountain bike races, including two wins in the Ragin’ At the Ranch series at Donner Ski Ranch. He also closed out his season by winning the 40-49 age group at the Tahoe Hopper in September.

But let’s backpedal for a moment.

Did we mention this was the first year he has ridden competitively?

“It was about a year ago today,” Kalb said late last month. “I thought, what the hell?”

He has been riding since 1992. That’s when he was looking for a way to rid himself of a 40-pound sympathy belly, which he says he gained while his wife, Elizabeth, was pregnant with his two daughters.

“I think he ate as much ice cream as I did. So (gaining the weight) was frustrating for him,” said Elizabeth. “He didn’t like going to the gym. So to watch him get into this, it has been amazing. He loves it. He cannot wait to get on the bike.”

It all started with a few rides with friends in Marin County, where he and his wife lived prior to moving to Nevada County.

“After my third or fourth ride, I became completely hooked,” he said. “We did one ride in real muddy conditions and it was so fun. We got completely caked in mud. It was really warm out and it was just a great workout.

“I felt like I got on this treadmill – like on the Jetsons – and just can’t get off of it.”

Beginner’s luck?

It’s not as though the blue ribbons came rolling in right away. Kalb admits the first few runs – as is the case with mountain biking – had as many downs as ups.

As for his first foray? The butterflies began bouncing in his belly well before he got on the bike at the Cool Mountain Bike Race in February.

“To say I was nervous, well, I was glad I buy toilet paper at Costco,” he said with a laugh. “It kicked in the whole week before. I couldn’t sleep because I was so nervous. And I hadn’t been able to keep food down.”

Yet when race day came, he left his nerves at the starting gate. He finished 10th among 45 riders in the beginners’ division of the 35-45 age group.

“I felt good about it, but not great,” he said. “But considering I was sick, I felt OK about it.”

He picked up a third-place finish in another race the next week, before preparing for the Sea Otter in Monterey a month later, which fielded more than 200 riders in his division. There he took 48th place.

The first two wins at Donner Ski Ranch came in July, when he realized that climbing was his real strength. He expected that new knowledge to pay off in the steep grades of September’s Downieville Classic.

“I finally had figured out my fortE,” he said. “(Downieville) has a huge climb and a huge descent. I test rode the race course with a friend and timed myself. I thought ‘God, I’ve got a great chance at being in the top five with this.'”

Yet on that climb he cramped up so badly, he said he could barely stay on the bike.

“I was so mad,” he said. “People were just flying by me.”

He wished a certain swarm of bees would have done the same. Instead, they went on the attack. By the time he got to a course marshal, he had his helmet in one hand and was picking bees from his hair with the other.

“I was covered with welts,” he said. “I was only 20 percent done with the descent and it’s a 4000-foot vertical descent. I thought there was no way I was going to get out of there. I thought they’d have to call an emergency helicopter.”

But rather than calling it a day, he hopped back on the bike and pedaled through the pain to the finish line, taking 33rd place among the 70 in the 35-44 age group.

“I have never,” he said, “been in so much pain as I was the two days after that.”

Smiles through miles

Though he loves the competition, Kalb also enjoys the recreational rides, though Elizabeth, who rides along, says they often turn into training sessions.

“I really like it. It’s fun that we’re able to share that,” she said. “But now he’s so much faster than me that all I see is his rear end, or he ends up waiting for me.

“We do it so we can go somewhere fun, and just hang out on our bikes. We used to find things to do together. He used to ride motorcycles. But with this you’re working your body and you’re doing that together. It’s pretty cool we can do that in our 40s and 50s. It’s kind of neat that way.”

The physical benefits mountain biking has brought to Rick Kalb are obvious, but Elizabeth said the changes in her husband weren’t limited to his weight loss.

“It wasn’t like he was this depressed, fat guy,” she said with a laugh. “But he was kind of a quiet person, and now he seems more outgoing.

“He seems a lot happier as a person. It’s just the little things. He’s got more energy. And his sense of humor comes out more often. I think he’s just happier about himself.

“Anymore, I think he lives for biking as much as anything else.”

Brian Hamilton

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