There’s no Crying in Mountain Biking
This happens a lot: Boyfriend takes girlfriend mountain biking for the first time. Girlfriend cries. Girlfriend sells mountain bike or stuffs it back into the garage to collect dust.
It happened to me two or three years ago. My 1997 Specialized Rockhopper hardtail, which I’d only ever ridden on creek trails, but was now at Annadel State Park. I had no idea how poorly suited my mountain bike was, or how challenging the terrain at Annadel was, or what kind of bad ass my boyfriend must have thought I was, but after climbing the steep, rocky Canyon trail (“it’s just a fireroad”) and then turning onto some singletrack, I had what must have been a panic attack and started crying. I was more afraid of going 0.5 mph over a rock than I was going 120 mph on a motorcycle.
I had an opportunity last fall to buy a new, modern mountain bike at a great price (thanks Cupertino Bike Shop), so I thought I’d try it again, this time, on my terms, riding the trails I wanted, stopping when I wanted, and crying when I wanted. Rode a few times. Was still scared, but no crying, and I slowly dabbed my way into some more technical riding.
Obsession hit with the purchase of my Santa Cruz Blur TRc this spring. I rode a lot, I fell a lot (sorry Mom), and somehow I ended up placing second in the beginner class at Downieville last month.
So winning the beginner ladies’ cross country race at Annadel two days ago was kind of like having dinner with an old boyfriend who broke your heart – and looking rad. I crushed it. I mean, for me. I crushed it in only the way a novice mountain biking girl can crush such things, finishing the 24 mile course in 2 hours, 27 minutes, 45 seconds. I would have come in 15th of 50 in beginner men, and 2nd of 20 or so women (of the masters and beginners racing the short course).
If I wasn’t still in such disbelief, I might actually be thrilled, and proud. I keep fighting off thoughts of how slow I am still, how far away I am from actually being good at mountain biking. I don’t think them in a sad way, just, in a factual way. They keep telling me to quit fucking around. Go faster!
The race itself was pretty much mayhem. 650 mountain bikers in a peloton speeding down the streets of Santa Rosa, then stuffing themselves into the mouth of Howarth Park like a big swarm of bees flying into a tiny bird house. I saw my friend Sarah Pittiglio, fellow motorcycle racer and general bad ass, and wanted to keep up with her so we picked our way forward through the pack.
With all the traffic, sections that were normally easy to ride turned into hike-a-bike sections. I managed to keep things clipped in until Violetti, a steep, rocky, loose fireroad climb. It’s a good thing I went and practiced Violetti, Cobblestone and Channel so many times, because all the hard stuff I finally was able to clear consistently, everyone around me was walking through. I’m sure they could ride it too, but it only takes one to bring the conga line to a halt.
Up Richardson, a smooth, steep fireroad, everyone spread out and I had some time to think finally. My heart rate was around 180, unsustainable for me for a long effort, so I backed off and tried to pace myself. I didn’t pass anyone. I got passed a lot. I hated it.
Chain Drop, passedbyadude.com
My suckfest on Richardson knocked me back into a more compatible group, I think. When we hit the technical singletrack, no one passed me and I found myself keeping pace with riders ahead of me. But on Live Oak, a rocky, narrow climb, I dropped my chain again – in the back, to the inside – this has been happening more and more lately. I f bombed, getting off the trail, flipping my bike over and trying to wrestle the chain out from between the hub and the cassette. Saw boys passing me, swore some more. Got it sorted and ran up the hill pushing my bike up to an easier spot to remount.
I passed some boys back. I wondered how many beginner girls snuck in front of me, or were already in front of me. I wondered where Sarah was, I really wanted to try to hang with her sport class awesomeness. I tried to remind myself to have some fun on the descents. At some point on a rocky climb my right foot flew out of the pedal and I smacked my right inside ankle bone on the crank arm – AGAIN – and I howled in pain. Like a bitten inside cheek that keeps getting stuck between your teeth, my ankle was already raw, swollen and bruised. Time to amputate.
Pros. Descents. More Mayhem.
Feeling a bit like the Amazing Race trying to follow the directional arrows stapled to trees (I still don’t really know my way around Annadel), wondering where that horrible rock was before Marsh (the one that made me have another ankle incident a week prior), grabbing Gu and water from the volunteers, and waiting like a little lamb for the pro wolves to start getting up in my business. The pros took a “long cut,” and after riding it they’d be back on my trail.
When the pros came through, I hope I struck a good balance of riding my own race, but also cooperatively looking for convenient places to let them pass. I called out which way I was pulling over so they could get by. At one point I stopped and pulled over, and a short course lady got by. No! I pedaled furiously down the Ridge and Marsh descents and finally got her back on the Canyon descent (the same trail I cried coming up years ago). I flew over and around a thousand small boulders, trying to keep pace with some of the pros who passed me.
On the flat fire road at the bottom, I sprinted for the finish, imagining my other short course lady to be on my ass. I didn’t want to have gone through two hours of mayhem and ankle pain just to let some chick beat me right before the line.
She didn’t. I crossed the finish line, found my truck, tenderly laid down my amazing Blur TRc (I still cannot believe the things it can do), turned down a cold beer, and promptly died. I averaged 174 bpm for the duration of the two and half hour race, generating a much higher Strava suffer score than from the slightly longer Pescadero Road Race. I had no idea how I finished until our friend Maxine came over and told me I’d won!
My race preparation was pretty good – Howard from Mikes Bikes Los Gatos, Team Buy-Cell.com, Trail Head Cyclery and Coach Thomas had all helped me with mental prep, tire choice, tire swaps, and road training, but my post-race prep was terrible. I had no recovery drink, was out of water, had no chairs or champagne, and it was hot, dry and dusty. The rest of the day I was like a wind-up toy with a broken wind-up thing.
I need to work on my outfits. Turns out sleeveless doesn’t look very pro, especially with elbow pads, nor does my pink Camelbak. Have to learn how to drink from bottles on the dirt bike (and how to not fall on my elbows).
And while I love the Specialized Prevail helmet, when I see pictures of me in it I think of this:
All in all, stoked about the race. Bike Monkey put on a great event. Happy to have crushed Annadel after it crushed me a few years ago!