Monday, June 6, 2011

Smiling through it all.

Tumultuous.  That is how it feels my life is lately.  I have so many things in the process of change, so much stress, so much going on that I feel at times that I am not going to be able to keep it together.  Sunday during the race I found a very real analogy for how I feel about life in general right now.  Before I get to that I figured I would share a bit of the lead-up.

Plans came together last week and my mom would be joining us up near Solvang for the weekend of the Santa Ynez Kenda Cup West race.  We were going to sort of double-up the weekend since my birthday is coming up.  I had been planning on driving the new TDI up and seeing what the amazing little diesel is like on a longer weekend road trip.  Unfortunately the weather outlook was not so bright.  Thursday we decided that it would be better to have the truck for this trip.  If for no other reason other than to not trash the interior of the new car with muddy race gear!

We took Friday off work and meandered our way North.  We stopped off at our wonderful sponsor's shop, Rock N' Road Cyclery, to grab a few odds and ends and say "HI!"  After that we stopped off at an REI for a few other odds and ends.  We wanted to go for a little bike ride somewhere on the way up and Gary Douville responded to Allison's Facebook request for an easy ride with some sweet bluff-top single track over looking the ocean in Goleta.  The ride was perfect, exactly what we needed!  We even found some sweet little jumps and stuff.

After our little ride we headed to the place my mom had booked for all of us to stay for the night.  It was a "Thousand Trails" facility in the Los Padres NF area.  We all jumped in my mom's car and headed to dinner at the Firestone Walker Tap Room in Buelton.  Such an awesome night!  Great conversation, food, beer, wine...  we even had TWO desserts!  (the server made a mistake in our favor, collect bonus yummy empty calories and advance to GO!)

Friday night the weather started up.  The wind howled and woke me up many times in the night.  The morning started out partly cloudy, but deteriorated rapidly as we lazied around and ate breakfast and drank coffee.  By the time we left for the race venue to go register and pre-ride there was some rain falling here and there.  Allison and I rode a lap and a half of the course, got to see our favorite DH racers, and generally had a good time.  We then ran over to the Firestone Winery and purchased some wine (2 bottles for Allison's Dad, 1 bottle for my mom that was the same as what we had the previous night at dinner, and 1 for us!) before hauling butt down to meet up with my mom and have some coffee and pastries in Solvang (more caloric indulgence, noticing a pattern yet?).

Okay so this is where there starts a few kinks in things.  We have been struggling some with how to approach the bike racing and training while enjoying the life experience.  Previously Allison was going to conquer the world on two wheels (she still is, but not this year) so we were both very focused on every detail of every second of every day to get her there.  With a delay in her World Domination we have shifted some focus to life experience including beer drinking and other such indulgence.  The problem comes when these things directly contradict what we know to be the ideal race preparation/experience.  Anyway, at times this internal controversy causes some friction between us and that certainly happened on Saturday evening.  We wound up eating the leftovers Allison had thoughtfully/carefully packed as a pre-race meal, then joining our favorite DH'ers where I had some pizza ("I like pizza, Steve") and then I had an ice cream sandwich.  Downward spiral much?   At the same time Allison was freaking out, worried that racing in the cold and wet was going to cause more "Black Death Foot", certainly something that we both fear in a major way.  The Mann Show had shifted from a situational comedy to a drama for the night.  The rain and wind pounded away outside, a physical manifestation of the struggle inside?

Sunday morning we had our regular race prep breakfast and headed to the venue.  Somebody had definitely done a rain dance and we were going to pay the consequences.  We started our warm up in the rain and things were sticky to say the least.  My warm-up was weak.  The lap count for the race kept changing.  The course changed.  I had no idea what was in store for us, wasn't even sure what the course was.  We didn't have anyone to do bottle hand-offs.  With no idea on race duration I had one bottle on my bike and hoped for the best.  #tumultuous

My group lined up with the AG below us (just like at Big Bear) so we had Ty Kady and Marco Arocha in our group, as well as Brandon Gritters.  I figured I would mark my main AG competition and Gary Douville topped that list.  I guess the weather scared off Eric Bostrom who had pre-registered.

I took a few deep breaths and we were off.  We funneled down to single track quickly and I think I was around 8th wheel.  The first little climb had a bunch of shuffling and I moved up to 6th.  The guys in the front were all strong so I figured I was in a decent spot.  On the first major climb of the lap I moved around Ted and then Gary.  Looking ahead it seemed that Ty and Brandon were checking out and Marco was in between.  Right at the top of the climb Umberto put in an effort and passed me.  I rode behind him for a good portion of the descent before going around which gave Marco a pretty good gap.  The rest of the first lap was fast and I was trying to hunt down Marco.  Conditions weren't too bad and the rain was light.

The second lap things changed.  I was right behind Marco going through the Start/Finish.  After catching him I sat on for a while, then went around and pulled for a while.  When we hit the climb I just kept a good pace and Marco followed.  Near the top of the climb I caught Chloe Forsman and rode her wheel for part of the descent.  The track was getting quite slippery, mud was starting to clog people's bikes, and we were hitting a lot of traffic.  We got hung up behind some kids and we were pretty much track standing.  Marco dropped off the track to the left and cut a switchback to make the pass so I followed.  Better to not force a questionable pass on little kids and the single track was slippery!  Marco led onto the next climb and we were working hard through very heavy traffic.  Marco seemed to be making some pretty iffy passes and I tried to play it safe which gave him a gap.  We caught Derek Hermon and Marco tried to pass on the left but slid in the mud and fell.  I moved past him and stayed behind Derek until I could get a clean pass and then just motored on.  The rain was coming and going and the mud was getting really bad.  Somewhere around this time I just decided to smile and have fun and not let the conditions derail me.  I knew I was leading my AG and was 3rd in our wave, likely overall for amateur racers.  The next descent really tested my attitude!  Right before getting there I passed Alex Estrada.

At the top of the next descent there was a guy standing there and he said, "The trail is extremely slippery, watch for down riders, be careful!"  I said, "Thanks!" and thought to myself that I could handle anything coming.  I will now forever know the next section of trail as "The Slip and Slide."  No sooner did I enter the trail I was sliding sideways and moments later was picking myself and my bike up off the ground.  I did this a bunch of times.  It seemed I was making decent time as I caught the Pro Women's leader, Lea Davison, and complimented her on the awesome new Specialized Fate race bike she was on.  Catching and passing a World Cup racer was very encouraging!  I figure she races in crazy conditions and has a great deal more experience in mud than me so it really stoked my engine room.  Unfortunately the mud was starting to take it's toll.  My FD stopped shifting altogether and only certain gears would work in the back.  I kept bunny hopping and slamming my bike down to knock mud off, but it didn't help the FD.  As I came into the main race venue I made a decision to stop at the bike wash that was pretty much right on the course and wash off my FD.  It took about 30-45 seconds, but I think it was a very smart decision as I now could shift in the front!

The 3rd and final lap was quite an experience.  I am not sure I could convey how much the track looked like a war zone.  People were standing, walking, carrying bikes.  I just kept cranking and smiling.  The carnage seemed to effect everyone except me!  I passed Zack Valdez standing on the side of the trail scraping mud off his bike.  It seemed like I was in a constant state of calling out "Passing Left" or "Rider up, please move".  I wasn't mad, but I did not want to slow down.  I had a theory that if I went fast enough the mud couldn't stick to me!

It seemed there were three kinds of people that were hiking with their bikes, many people were cheering me on and commenting how amazing the Pro riders were at dealing with the conditions (I am NOT a Pro!), an equal number were asking me how the hell I was still riding everything (I just kept smiling and cranking hard!), and a small minority of the people were so shell shocked by their own personal struggle with the conditions that they were completely unaware of anything else.  Near the top of the second big climb of the lap one of these people managed to smash me in the face with his rear wheel as he swung his bike around to shoulder it.  Not long after that I was shocked when I passed both Brandon Gritters (he was in the second category above) and Ty Kady (who I will classify in the first group as he said something like "Good work dude").

I was now leading the amateur race for sure (nobody goes faster than Ty), and had definitely lost count of how many times I had crashed and slid around in the goop.  Going down "The Slip and Slide" and finishing the lap it seemed I was all alone on course.  It was pretty cool.  I just kept smiling and miraculously my bike kept working!

Fastest non Pro, 2nd fastest time of the day!

Post race coffee to warm up.  Man is it nice to have the Jetboil on tap!

I swear my bike hates me now.  First Sagebrush and now this?!?!  #rebuildneeded

It seems I took the second fastest time of the day!  I got my birthday wish.  All I wanted from myself for the 36th birthday was a good race.  :)

Keep on smiling!  See you at the next one...

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