In the quest for true love on two wheels, I did a mountain bike race a week ago Saturday at Monterey’s Fort Ord, part of the CCCX cycling series. I don’t know exactly where I fit in with bicycles, I just know that I love them and want to be rad. So I’ve been trying out different things.
It’s so different from motorcycles. As soon as I got on a “crotch rocket” I felt like Will Smith in Independence Day when he flies the spaceship for the first time, and it became clear pretty quickly that I wanted to be on the fastest, sexiest bike and make it my bitch. That led to road racing. I knew I didn’t want to set land speed records, or race supermoto, or dirt bikes. I loved the sheer speed and acceleration, the aggression, and the glamour of road racing.
No such clarity with bicycles, so onward I pedal.
I had a seat dropper on my mountain bike, a device that’s triggered by a lever on the handlebars which will raise and lower your seat post. Great for learning how to ride down very steep, technical terrain, but it’s heavy and I wouldn’t need it for a cross country race, so Friday night I replaced it with my standard seat post. I’m not a climber. And I know the weight doesn’t matter that much, but I swear to you, it feels like a load of pancakes in my stomach when that dropper is on and I’m trying to hustle up a hill.
I wasn’t thrilled thinking about my smooth front tire in the sandy loose stuff at Fort Ord, but wasn’t unthrilled enough to do anything about it. Figured I’d just be careful and if sliding happened, it’d be good for my skill set.
Sophie Bee and I planned to arrive at registration when it opened, at 7:30. Early, but I’d been wired up since three a.m. like me, Christmas morning, circa 1982. We wanted to get a full lap in on the course as a warm-up before starting. This would be Sophie’s first mountain bike race since racing here a few years ago and injuring her back, leading to surgery, poison oak outbreaks, and all sorts of nonsense, so I was glad we could cheer each other on.
My warm ups are pretty miserable. I puttered around the course, watching Sophie zoom up the climbs. I remembered my goals for the day:
- Don’t crash: avoid charging into unfamiliar turns or feeling pressured by faster people behind me
- No chain drop: fortunately this hasn’t been a problem on my Santa Cruz Blur TRc, but I dropped the chain on my old bike three times my last race here.
- No wandering off course: this happened last race. A combination of fatigue and distraction.
- No more poison oak: see “don’t crash,” above.
As we got the 15 second countdown for the start and all eagerly awaited the whistle, I pretended I was trying to get the holeshot in a motorcycle race. Instead of looking for the twitchy shoulder about to wave the flag, I tuned myself to the sound of that whistle, and off I went. I tried to draft some girls who got out of the gate fast, and by the time we turned off the road and into the course, I was third or fourth, behind a quick junior and another fast looking lady. I wanted to be as far ahead as I could be and make girls pass me.
I don’t remember when I passed Chantel, the junior, but it was fairly early on, so all I had left was Anya Thrash (best competitor name ever), and she was very quick. My heart rate was pushing close to 180 chasing her; I felt good, but had no idea what to expect with four laps and a bit over an hour and a half of racing, plus I wanted to stay true to my goals. So I slowed down.
Coach Thomas was like a broken record in my little brain, too: “eyes up the trail. Eyes up the trail. Eyes up the trail.”
My poison oak outbreak was feeling prickly, like it recognized its brethren out on the course and got excited. It’s kind of been killing me the past week or two. And I also got my period. On the third lap. But I kept pedaling, and each time I came upon a “lapper” (a slower rider from a grid that left before us), I passed him as promptly as I could, hoping that other girls might hesitate more, allowing me to charge ahead even further.
There was this one lapper I came across. Oh my god. He was huffing and puffing, and doing alright on the climbs, but each time we got to a corner or a sand trap he parked it and this was all in a very tight, long section of singletrack. I felt like I was on an Ninja 250, following around a slow R1 at a track day. I almost punted him. When we got to the short paved portion, I expected him to sit up a bit and rest like the other riders were doing, but no, he raced me! We both stood out of our saddles and sprinted down the road. Needless to say, I beat him to the trail head and off I went, but I was smoked by the effort.
A couple looks over my shoulder indicated that Sophie was not in the vicinity. I couldn’t quite believe it, because she kicks my ass every time we ride, so I hoped that she hadn’t had any problems.
There were several sand traps on the course, some that seemed deep to me. A couple laps I tried to fight my way around them, one or two laps I plowed and prayed.
I smiled for the photographers. I counted down the laps, occasionally forgetting how many I had left.
My heart rate held steady in the 170s the whole race, but I was trying hard to conserve energy on descents and carry corner speed, and then have some energy in reserve to run up the short, steep little climbs.
When the finish came, I was ridiculously happy to have met my four goals, but on top of that, only one girl finished ahead of me. I won my age category, the 35-44 beginner women, and came in 2nd overall. Sophie came in a few minutes behind me, also winning her 45+ category and very thrilled by the race.
We stayed and watched some of the Cat 1 and 2 racers, including my friends Sarah and Bri. Here’s Sarah coming across the finish:
Damn this poison oak. It’s like I’ve been in this honeymoon period with mountain biking, and now it’s thrown up a pretty big red flag. Well maybe not a red flag, more like a yellow. Like finding out that your super rad boyfriend, like, is rude to wait staff, or gives you yeast infections.
So far mountain biking is worth it.