Day 1: Travel
Newark airport: 5:30am.
I had heard about the fire at Newark Terminal B, but I hadn’t anticipated the overload of travelers that would clog the other terminals. The line to get to security lapped the terminal twice. No kidding. Despite the United staff assuring me there was no way I’d make my 7am flight, I waited anxiously in line and passed quickly through security at approximately 6:55. I resurrected my high school track days and laid out an 800m PR to reach the gate moments before the door was sealed.
A smooth flight and an overpriced rental car later, I settled into my hotel room. Ever since the bullet-proof check-in cubicle at the hotel for the Sugar Hill, MD race last year, I’m a bit skeptical approaching hotels booked randomly near a race venue. I was pleased to find my home for the next few days is NICER than expected.
The weather was a pleasant 63 degrees with a solid drizzle. The hotel rooms surround a center courtyard with a pool, hot tub and hundreds of rose bushes. Very nice.
At this point, I’m antsy to get pedaling, but I have to wait a few hours before the shop has my bikes put together. Having strangers work on my babies is beyond nerve wracking – flashback to the 2015 Boston Rebellion blown-out hub ordeal. Soon enough 4:30 rolls around and my bikes arrive – assembled and delivered right to my door for the incredibly low price of $0. Thank you Coates Cycles!
Still plenty of daylight for a quick ride, and the rain let up. Bonus. According to the map, I can ride to Bonelli Park right from my hotel, so I decide to venture out for a few hours. I ride on a lot of hard packed double track with punchy climb after punchy climb.
Deeper into the park I happen upon some single track, which is also incredibly hard packs with sweeping turns. My initial impression is that the ground feels like a pump track. Maybe it’s usually more sandy and the drizzle today packed it down, but it’s almost asphalt.
I make my way back to the hotel, wash up and run a few errands. There’s a Trader Joe’s around the corner, so I stock up on prepared butternut squash salad and swing by the nearby bike shop to buy a bike lock. I just can’t handle leaving my bikes unsecured in the hotel room when I’m not there. Am I being overly paranoid? Probably.
Day 2: Course pre-ride
I’m thrilled to discover that the course has a few rough, rocky descends and other sections of gouged and rutted up trail. There are also 2 man-made features that are essentially rampped-up log-overs which are reasonably high, steep and quite close together, so the second one (made out of rocks) is a tad tricky. With very few flat sections, your either riding up or down, so it’s going to be a pain fest. I’m not looking forward to the long road section at the start.
The drizzle continued most of the day and it was raining steadily by the end of my second lap. The dirt here seems to be clay-like, as such it turns into grease as the water soaks in. The dirt also packs into the tire treads turning a lovely ride into a 100lbs ice skating session.
My nerves are running high as I roll through the venue, which has a festival atmosphere. There are tons of team tents setup, and I recognize a number of top ranked riders from Specialized, Trek and the Luna Chix teams.
After washing my bike off, I carefully pack the bike into the rental. It’s a nice cadillac SUV with less than 5,000 miles on it, and I’m insanely paranoid the rental company is going to charge me for every scuff. I tear open all the Trader Joe’s paper grocery bags and line the bed of vehicle.
Back at the hotel room, I spend the evening eating those TJ salads, catching up on work, stretching and watching a little boob-tube.
Day 3: XC Go Time
My nerves are on fire, I wake up way to early and scarf down a complimentary omelet, only to find I have a few hours before I need to head to the race. I try to kill time by watching T.V., but I’m not able to concentrate on anything and I’m beyond anxious to get to the race. I pack up and head over. I try to take my time getting ready, checking and double checking my bike, hitting the bathroom.The toilette paper situation is a little over the top.
I pedal around to warm up, meet a few fellow racers. The closer the start time gets, the heavier the rain falls. By the time staging starts it’s really coming down.
I expected approximately 40 girls, so I’m pretty surprised to see closer to 60. I’m nervous, but I’m amped and feeling really positive.
I get a last call up and take my spot among the 8 nicely spaced rows. With 1 min to the start, the officials step out of the staging area and all 60 riders compress down, each girl squeezing as close as possible between one another, so that there are 4 misshapen rows. Handle bars are jabbed into my hips, elbows collide and wheels rub. This is the sort of thing that can’t be practiced anywhere else. The potential for disaster is huge. It would only take a small wobble to take down another rider and create a massive pile up.
The start is uneventful, I clipped in smoothly and maneuvered through some women to mix in with the main group. As soon as we hit the first descent the traffic backs up. No room to get around. I could walk faster than this! Argh! The pack stretches out and the front half is long gone. A couple rollers later the trail opens up and I get around a few women. I bomb the first descent that is clear of traffic, only to miss the turn! I’m tangled up in the bushes while a train of women fly’s past me. The good news is that I didn’t land in a cactus.
Some climbs felt awesome and I could powered up them, some I was just slugging away. I go back and forth with 2 other gals for a bit. Traffic backs up on the rocky climbs with wheels spinning out and people walking. We spread out and I’m riding alone for a while, just trying to find my rhythm. Midway through the 2nd lap I’m pushing just a little too hard and slide out around a sweeping turn- dirt is absolute grease! No biggie. 3rd lap I’m finally settled into the pace I can ride cleanly, I’m staring to really hone the lines, I feel good on more climbs than I feel bad… Heading through the start/finish I’m starting to drill the open road section, feeling good.. And I get pulled. Bummer! I know I wasn’t dead last, but somewhere back there. Was a really fun course and now I know, I know what it’s like to line up with the best of the best. I have a lot to work on, but the first step has been taken. That makes me smile.
Time to hit up The taco truck And heckle the men’s race.
Tomorrow I’ll be giving the short track a shot. Hoping to hang on for a longer % of the race than today.
Day 4: Short Track
I start the morning with another complimentary hotel omelet and coffee. I’m feeling pretty good and super hyped to give short track a go. I spend the morning trying to pack up the rental car with every item I have. I severely underestimated the space the 2 hard bike cases would take up.
Trying to squeeze both bikes and all the wheels into the vehicle, along with my luggage is a nightmare. I’m crazy paranoid about getting grease on the interior. I can’t get the dropper post to work on the Defcon and there is no way in hell that frame is going to fit without it compressed. I drive over the local bike shop and sit on the sidewalk, trying to suppress my panic, while I wait for the shop to open. I even email some of the other racers I know are heading to Sea Otter to see if they might have room in their vehicle. The shop re-cables the dropper post and I’m able to shove the frame all the way into the front seat and fit in the other frame too. Phew!
Despite the hours I spend packing up, I get to the venue early and start a gentle warm up. I give some sprints a try, practice some starts, leaning through corners, get a few laps in and keep spinning around. I’m surprised how simple the course is. It’s the road section from the day before, a single dirt road climb, a single descent with 50 feet of single track which opens into a sweeping grass turn, a couple wide turns in the grass and then right back onto the road. Hmmm. Seems kinds boring considering the awesome trails available.
Finally it’s time for staging. The group is smaller today -33 women gather around. Staging takes a while, as the announcer lists accolades for the top 25 or so riders – accomplishments including: Olympic medals, National Championships, World Cup Championships, Collegiate Championships, he goes on and on and on. It’s impressive. The women are surprisingly silent. I’m still hyped s. o I start clapping and cheering for everyone. These women are incredible – they all deserve cheers.
I feel excited but I’m calm. I know I’m here to just see what’s what. Get experience. Do the best I can. Keep working on improving my racing tactics and my skills. As long as I’m improving, I’m happy.
I have a solid start and immediately work my way into the pack. I’m on the back of the main group, I’m pleased I was able to hang on during the road section and not get dropped on the climb. The group bottlenecks into the single track and there is nothing we can do but hit our brakes and wait for an opening. The front of the pack takes off. I blast out of the descent and sweep wide through the turn, trying to not touch the brakes. I pass a girl. I hammer out of the corner and make another pass. Back on the road section I grab a wheel and stick with other girls.The pack regroups and the Luna riders slow the pack pace to slingshot one of their riders off the front. Road tactics in a mtb race?? I can’t help but laugh. This isn’t a test of who’s the best mountain biker, it’s something else, but I’m not sure what exactly.
The groups surges and stretches as the fastest riders chase her down and the rest of us struggle to stay together. I stand and drill the climb. Some girls fly past me, I pass others slugging away. Again I’m braking and waiting for the bottle neck to clear. Impatiently, I try a line through the shrubs, but the drag of the bushes costs me any lead I might have gained, so I’m back in the same spot out of the descent. I push the turn a little harder and make another outside pass. That’s really fun.
I know the leaders are long gone now, so it’s a ticking time bomb until I get pulled. I charge the road section and the climb every chance I can, I make passes but lose those passes on the road section. I don’t seem to be able to put the power out on the road the way I can when it’s dirt. Perhaps that’s mental, I don’t know. Definitely need to work on it. When I do finally get pulled, I’m please with my effort as I left everything on the course. Ended up in 26th place. A much better result than yesterday.
My brother-in-law was able to make it to the race and cheer me on. We watch the men’s race and then it’s time I head to Monterrey for the Sea Otter Classic!