View From the Back of the Pack – Making a List and Checking it – – oh wait I didn’t check it.

The next race we headed out to was in Crowsnest Pass, Alberta.  A few things stand out to me for this race.  Firstly, it was our first trek out of BC for an event which led to some road trip excitement (audiobooks ftw!) and it was also the scene of me forgetting to pack something important.

The trip out was fairly uneventful with the exception of a torrential downpour which flooded out a bunch of roads we were planning to take and causing us to divert in a town we’ve never been to before.  It went from clear skies to apocalypse so fast it was shocking.

Just as fast as the rain came, it went away and we safely made it to our Air BnB in Crowsnest Pass.  If you haven’t been there, I really recommend it.  Lovely little town where everyone was friendly and all seemed to be outdoorsy in one way or another.  The place we stayed was awesome and the owner was even the head of a local mountain biking club!  It also meant that they were well equipped for having bikes around.

img_2245

What really made this trip particularly memorable for me is that about 5 hours into our drive I had a sudden realization:  I forgot to pack my riding shoes!  That means I came equipped with a lovely pair of ballet flats and nothing else.  Not even runners.  Shockingly, I remembered socks.  Luckily, the local bike shop in Crowsnest Pass had a selection of women’s shoes to choose from and happened to have my size.  It was an expense I wasn’t expecting but super lucky it worked out.    What wasn’t nice was breaking in new shoes during an 8 hour race.  I would be lying if I said I walked away without blisters.

img_2257
Happily resting after breaking in those shoes.

The race itself was interesting.  Some of it was a ton of fun, some of it was torture, and some seemed like the organizers were just testing our will to continue.  The first climb was mellow but ended in everyone waiting in line for over an hour to start the first stage.  Nothing cools your muscles down like standing around on the top of a mountain for an hour after a climb up.  It also was the scene of men showing off how easy it is for them to pee in the woods.  Which they did.  All of them.  Often.  I won’t lie, I was jealous they didn’t have to fully expose their butt and squat as well as risk a Miss pissy pants situation.  But that’s not important in the grand scheme.  The excitement peaked when the man behind me took the opportunity to scrape all the dirt from his tires using a stick.  The thrills of this race were clearly non-stop!

img_2253

One of my favourite ways to catch my breath but pretend like I’m not about to drop dead is to enjoy the scenery.  Luckily, the views were stunning and I had a lot of opportunity to stop and smell the roses (if I could breathe, that is).

One thing that seems to stand out in my memory for this race is how much time I spent alone.  I know I’m always in last place but usually staggered starts means I’m just hanging out with people who started 3 hours after me (read: pro men) but in this race it was different.  I spend a ton of time on my own and even ended a couple of segments with nobody at the finish line to tell you where to beep out.  It was odd and one thing in particular made it even more frustrating.  No matter how much bug spray I had on (deet and natural) I was being eaten alive by mosquitoes.  You’d think it would be a minor inconvenience but it had me in tears and ready to quit the race.  A few mosquitoes would be annoying but I was completely surrounded by swarms for hours at a time.  I managed to take some pictures of the aftermath so know I’m not exaggerating.

I typically don’t mind being alone while riding and even prefer it quite often as it gives me a chance to go at my own pace and think my own thoughts but I think the combination of the mosquito torture and the gratuitous, extra long climbs made it kind of get to me a bit.  Doesn’t help that I knew I was in grizzly bear territory and spent a lot of time looking over my shoulder just waiting to meet my grizzly (heh) end via some giant murdermits.

img_2255

All in all, the race really was fun and I felt particularly accomplished when I got to the end of it.  I was able to enjoy my beer and pulled pork with the fantastic riders there.  Like other races, I’m just proud that I took it on and finished it.  I didn’t give up, even when my mind and body were screaming at me to just throw in the towel and go home.  That’s really what’s important.

The View from the Back of the Pack – Surprising Wins!

After the epiphany and subsequent fun of the Vedder race, I was more than pumped to get my race on in another location.  Next up was ChainLine Kelowna.  There was something very lucky for me about this particular race: it had a short course.  This took the course down from 6 stages to 4.  Given that there wasn’t a staggered start like in Vedder, I predicted some sweep interaction and worried about how long I would take.  The short course really helped with this.  I have to say, I don’t have pictures of them unfortunately, but the sweeps were the absolute loveliest people!  They were so chill and kind even though they were stuck behind me for a while.  Absolutely lovely humans.  When you watch the video of the first stage, they were the ones starting to cheer as I left at the top (encouraging a group of hikers I also spent a fair amount of time with on the way up to start cheering too).  Overall, I can’t say enough how wonderful these two guys were and I may not have been as successful as I was without them.

Let’s talk about the race itself.  Really nice climb.  It was a bit dodgy in parts but mostly pretty cruisy.  That being said, it still took me an hour to get up there between riding and hike a bike.  There is something to be said about the view as well. I spent a lot of time just stopping and looking around at the scenery. Let’s face it, it was partially an excuse for taking a break, but to the people walking by it looked like I was overcome with the majesty of the mountains.

Achievement-wise, this race was important for a few reasons. First of all, this was the first race that I finished!!! It isn’t an exaggeration to say that I did a happy dance at the bottom and told anybody who would listen how excited I was to have finished. There was a lot of jumping and dancing as well as my fair share of high fives. It was awesome.

The second achievement, and the one which made me feel a little strange, was that I managed to get on the podium. Of course, I was my customary last in my category. But my category had 3 people in it. Podium by default counts, right?

It was exciting and fun to have my name called and go up there but I couldn’t help but feel a little embarrassed because I felt like I didn’t really deserve a medal. But I definitely kept it. The medal sits in my living room and makes me smile whenever I see it. Champagne may or may not have been bought on the way home.

There was a lot of think and feel about this race and it is definitely one of my favorites and a highlight of the race season. I also chatted with (while bragging about my finish and collecting high fives) some amazing people from Steedz racing club who I got to see again and again with each race. It’s particularly fun to start to recognize people and have them recognize you and say hi. I think I stand out as the one who looks like she’s about to die walking up the climb. Or maybe it’s the old Bottlerocket. Either way, what a great community.

View From the Back of the Pack – Pre-ride

I have a post about the race in Kelowna that I’m currently working on but the video editing is taking much longer than expected.  Honestly, I’m cutting out all of the walking I did up climbs mid-timed section as to not bore you all to death and there’s a lot of them.  In the meantime, Ryan and I are off to another race back in Kamloops.

img_2167
Car is packed and ready to roll!

This time we’ll be racing on Harper Mountain (another new one for us both) and when the course was released it actually looked okay.  I mean, anything looks okay compared to Vedder.  So, despite my concern for my body giving out from riding too much, we headed up for a pre-ride today to check out what we were up against.

Honestly, I’m not going to say much about the actual course because I’ll cover that in the race write up.  What I want to say is concerning the pre-ride itself and how iffy a situation it is.  If you’re a seasoned, advanced rider it’s kind of a no brainer if they’re new trails for you.  You’ll get an idea of what’s to come and get to have a bit of fun while you’re doing it.  You certainly won’t wear out your body or — gasp! — come across shit that looks so scary you figure you should probably just volunteer as a marshall instead of riding the race.

Naturally, those are the things that happened to me today and I’m feeling a little torn on the pre-riding front.  I’ll be more solid tomorrow morning on if I knackered my body too much or not, but as far as the nerves are concerned I went through a whole rainbow of emotions when I was out there today.

Firstly, it was great to get an idea of the climb.  Mostly because it wasn’t terribly horrific and it gave me hope that I may actually finish a full course race tomorrow.  Secondly, I honestly do believe that it’s fantastic to get a look at what’s coming up the next day in a more relaxed environment but when what’s coming up is some terrifying bumpy rocks and loose loose loose terrain it starts falling into the “scaring Sarah off” category.  We made it up and did all of stage one.  The beginning of stage one is pretty scary to be honest.  The whole first section is.  I spent quite a bit of time hiking a bike thinking “oh boy I definitely should see if they still need volunteers for tomorrow.  I can’t do this at all.”  The good news is, the trail continued and turned into some fast, fun, flowy stuff that was a blast.  I spent the whole bottom half grinning from ear to ear.

There was also some official fun to be had as they had some tents set up and a grass slalom race to watch.  Ryan tried his hand at the $100 but unfortunately fell in the middle of the pack.

I saw this as a bonus, steep hike a bike with a huge audience watching you come down and decided my time was best spent in the beer tent and waiting for the food truck to open so I could get some deep fried Mars bars.

Overall I feel like pre-riding is a great thing to do.  Honestly, for quite a while today I thought that all it did was make me chicken out but tomorrow I’ll feel much more confident having at least an idea of what’s coming up – – and what I have to walk down.

Keep an eye out for the Kewlona blog as well as the follow up on how I do in Kamloops take two!

View From the Back of the Pack: Part 2 – Changing Perspectives

I last left off on a depressing note.  I highly suggest you read my last post before reading this one for it to make sense.  Fast forward a couple of weeks after Kamloops with some fairly unpleasant riding experiences in between.  There’s a point I would really love to add in here because I feel like it’s a factor that has been an issue in the past and really contributes to how I’m feeling on a ride.  That is the issue of the sweep.

For those of you who don’t know, the sweep is the person who brings up the rear.  In a race or event it’s the person who leaves after everyone else and makes sure that everyone gets down safely.  In my experience as a slow person, the sweep really can make or break that ride.  I have experienced wonderful, lovely sweeps who are just out to support everyone and make sure we all get down and/or have fun.  I have also experienced sweeps who feel the need to make snide comments about the slowest rider (me), about how much of a hurry they’re in (when there’s plenty of time left on the official clock), and in some cases straight up bullying.  I’m already feeling self conscious about being slower than everyone else.  I’m not just being lazy and taking too many breaks.  I’m doing the best I can and, especially when it’s a more casual and fun race, it seems unnecessary to give me shit for not being as fast as you want to go.  Again, that being said it is not everyone I have encountered and it won’t be everyone I encounter going forward.  I just wanted to mention this in case someone reading this is a sweep one day and is waiting for someone struggling.  Trust me, they’re not doing it just to annoy you and you very well make someone want to completely quit the sport.

This brings us to the morning of the Canadian National Enduro Series Fraser Valley race on Vedder Mountain.  I was, in a word, miserable.  I didn’t want to do the race.  I didn’t want sweeps to spend the day giving me shit for being slow.  I didn’t want to feel like a failure.  But I was there and registered.  I didn’t want to sit in the car for 7 hours waiting for Ryan to finish.  So I frowned and whined about not wanting to do it and I took off on my bike alone (staggered starts for different categories of riders).  Then something magical happened.  I don’t know if it was how beautiful the forest was or how peaceful it was climbing by myself but I got smacked in the face with an undeniable truth: I was there to have fun.  I can stop whenever I want.  My goals are my own and the only person I can let down is myself.

img_2113
A smile?! On a climb?!

It seems simple but after feeling so much pressure and disappointment it truly felt like a sudden realization.  The sun coming out between parting clouds.  Suddenly I was smiling on my sweaty walk up.  I cheered people and made jokes as people passed me.  I set a new goal:  get to the top.  This doesn’t seem like much of a goal but, honestly, if you’ve ever done the climb all the way up Vedder you’ll understand.  It’s brutal and steep.  It took me 3 hours.  I was doing stages 1 and 2 with the pro men and women who left 2 hours after me.  But we all suffered through it together and I actually enjoyed my death march up the hill.

In the end, I only completed 2 stages out of 6 or 7 but I felt so pleased.  I made it to the top!  Something I honestly felt almost impossible until I was standing at the stage 1 start.  I was beaming.  I am not a failure.   That’s why I’m still writing.  For the person who’s scared they’re not good enough to tackle that race, group ride, or even mountain biking in general!  You set your own goals.  If someone else decides to give you a hard time for it, that’s on them.  Maybe they’ve missed the whole reason why we’re all out there in the first place: to have fun.  Even the most serious racers find joy in being out on their bike. Keep that in mind and you’ll never have a bad day on the trails.

Another thing happened during the after party for this race which I am both proud and ashamed of.  An announcement came on saying that anyone who has an “ugly or shitty bike” come over to the Race Face tent for a contest to pimp out your bike with some amazing new parts.  As soon as I heard that I proclaimed, “I got this!” and ran poor Jenny over to the tent.  There were a couple of other people with their bikes mingling around, waiting for judgement and when they saw my bike coming they, no word of a lie, hung their heads in disappointment and WALKED AWAY!  This feeling was cemented as the judge took one look at my bike and said, “what the hell is that?!”  He was particularly interested in my ancient dropper post.  Long story short, it was no contest and Jenny won some amazing carbon cranks, bottom bracket, new chain ring, carbon handlebars, and a new stem.  It was incredible and even I know that those pieces are too baller for my old bike.  I still put them on.  Unfortunately the stem and handlebars didn’t fit my poor, old Jenny, but the cranks went on and she lost a full TWO POUNDS.  I was shocked!  They’re so smooth and I love them. Maybe I’ll get a new fork and put on the stem and handlebars one day.  This particular situation also ended up with my picture in an article and had people recognizing me at the next race.  Pretty crazy, huh?

img_2115
The kindness of strangers…. someone gave me a much needed fruit cup!

I felt completely renewed by this experience and I was so excited to tackle the next weekend’s race in Kelowna.  That story is up next!