Saturday, July 12th, 2008

MTB: Downieville, Where My Pride and Disappointment Lie…

Following is my post to MTBR.

Last year, I posted A (very) slow rider's Downieville XC report here. In response to the generous encouragement I received, I promised I would come back. A promise is a promise is a promise. I did. So here I am again to report back.

This paragraph is for the impatient as well as the time-crunched people: I improved, from last year's 4:48:53 (10th out of 10) to this year's 3:25:38 (2nd out of 7 per Sunday afternoon's result postings). I was more than proud of myself.  However, despite the possibility that I could have been the only rider wearing a (tennis) skirt in the race and the fact that I made multiple attempts during the four hours before the award ceremony to correct the result after seeing the wrong report, I remained mis-categorized in a men's class (obviously they made a mistake while putting my information into the computer system after my on-site registration) until Sunday. Which should have been my first ever podium moment never came. I was a bit disappointed. But the fact that my husband Erik (strom here) surprised himself by placing 1st (2:56:06) in his class and stood proud on the podium made up for it.  Thumb Up Dude

Okay, now I will write for the me in 10 years who will not be able to remember anything about this event more than what's written in these words as well as for those of you who feel at loss when you have to close up your laptop at midnight because you have run out of posts to read on MTBR. I'll try my best to be wordy.

I guess nobody can argue with me that I was very slow last year. Nope. I did not have any mechanical problems, nor did I cramp or crash. I was just a bit mudwormy. Being a total novice to mountain biking, I was very happy and proud to have survived a course that everyone talked about with great fear or admiration. So, after the race, I happily pushed my bike to the back of the storage and busied myself with other activities.

As I learned, forgetting about something does not really make it go away. In late March this year, our good friend Derek called and gently informed us, "Uh, Downieville is coming up and you are going. Do not break our tradition."  (Mental note to myself: I need to look up the word tradition in a dictionary.)  When I heard the message, I went pale — "Downieville is coming up in less than four months and I am more of a novice now than in last July because I have not touched my bike since. Help!!!"   Yikes

God must have heard me because he made my LBS restart their weekly group rides to Water Dog, a Belmont City park, for the season, and I was happy to find out about it because the park was only a couple of miles from work. From March 19, when I did my first ride with the group, to the day of the race, I have visited Water Dog thirty-six times. Besides the group rides, I did short rides twice a week during lunch breaks with a colleague. The small park is surprisingly rich in technical singletracks. One particular trail is called Finch Trail, aka 13 Switchbacks. In the beginning, I could only ride one or two switchbacks on the way down and five switchbacks on the way up, and gradually, I found myself riding more and more of those. One day I found myself humming a song quietly while cruising down at ease. Little progresses like this kept me motivated and excited. Suddenly, mountain biking is no longer associated with fear; it is fun!

Erik was not available to ride with during the week, so I reached out to other people. I found a group of dirt divas, all good riders, fun and supportive, to ride with at Arastradero once a week. But on some weekends, when Erik and I did not go rock climbing, we would seek out long rides to do such as those we did at Henry Coe. When my birthday came in late June, Erik proposed we spend three days at Downieville. Sounded good. I remembered admiring the beauty of the mountains when I was on the course last year, so I would like to visit the place again. We rode the DH course the first day and the full XC course with variations (such as 2nd divide and a failed attempt to look for Big Boulder Trail) the next two days. I was more than happy to find that I was no longer scared on the technical sections. Don't get me wrong — I was still not fast, but I was not pushing my bike as much as I did last year. I could not have dreamed in my wildest dream last year that some day I would clear the baby heads! But I did!  I had so much fun that weekend that I said to Erik on our drive back, "Let's come back next weekend." So, we did. Again, we did DH with variations (Big Boulder) the first day. On Sunday, I convinced Erik that he should not wait for me at every intersection because I knew the course so well that I could ride it blindfolded. We should just ride it like in a race and time ourselves. I pushed myself hard (or I thought I did) and finished the XC course in 3:34. Erik got a flat and pushed his bike for 20 minutes until I caught up and handed him my kit (he hadn't had flats for years and got a bit delusional). We both improved our times over last year's. I thought now that we knew our times, we didn't have to enter the race. Derek did not buy that logic. Rolling my eyes

Anticipating being forced off or slowed down on the climb due to the conga line and not believing myself being able to go any faster on the downhill, I thought I would post a slower time in the race. Having adjusted for his lost time due to flat, Erik expected to finish the course in 3:15. We both beat our own expectations.

Studying my lap times of the preride (using my gps) and the race (using my watch), I was able to find out how I have trimmed nine minutes off. On the climb, I was never forced off by anybody, although I was often forced to go slower than I had liked because I didn't have the technical skills to pass people on less than optimal lines. That was as expected, so I just took the opportunities to regulate my breathing and conserve engergy, which enabled me to push hard on the last fire road climb before Packer Saddle. I shaved 42 seconds off of the preride. Then, the next lap — the Sunrise Trail and the rolling fireroad leading to the start of "baby heads" — was where my conserved energy earlier came to use because I shaved four and half minutes off.

My third lap included Pauley and Butcher Ranch, the most technical stretch on the entire course.  I never crashed on my prerides. But during the race, I crashed at least four times and went OTB once.  The technical downhill was at my limit and I was going as fast as I could. Still people kept closing in on me. As soon as I heard a rider behind me, I started thinking, "Oh, where can I pull over? Here? No, too narrow? There? No, too rugged and I will have a hard time to restart which will only stall the next rider coming up to me. OMG, where can I pull over?…"  Tackling the constant bobbing ups and downs and in the mean time, seeking an ideal place to pull over turned out to be too much for my brain to process, and I started making mistakes. A few times, I pulled over in such a hurry or at such an awkward spot that I would either lose my balance or fail to unclip and tip over.  Not wanting to be closed in too soon by the next rider, I would push myself to a point that I stopped looking for the best line and that was when I endoed. Finally, I had a chit-chat with myself. "Look, it is not your fault that people are slower than you up to this point, so stop being overpowered by the guilt that you were in front of them, which only messes up your head. It does nobody any good when you crash.  Now, focus on the trail and stop making mistakes. You pull over when you feel ready."  I calmed down a bit after that.  Of course, by that time, it also helped that Butcher was almost over.  It really surprised me when I found out that I actually shaved off one minute and twenty three seconds on this lap despite my frequent crashes. I guess the pressure did help push me a bit harder.

The fourth lap (3rd Divide and the fireroad after) went as I pre-rode it. Only twenty five seconds of improvement. But I shaved one minute and twenty five seconds on the whole of 1st Divide. When I got back to the paved road, I was feeling strong and passed a couple of people. I wished the uphill section had been longer, like 5 miles longer, because I believe that's when my endurance would shine. But, I was also happy when I stood at the finish line because I saw a time I could almost not believe. I grinned ear to ear.  Cheesy

Things got even better when I saw on the preliminary result that I had a chance to podium! Wow, that had never happened to me before. Did I ever mention that I grew up a bookworm? I had my fingers crossed though because that was after I first found my name in a men's category and compared my time with others in my own category. I reported the mistake right away. To make sure it was addressed, I approached the person in charge twice to get a confirmation that the mistake had been corrected and both times I was brushed off with an unconvincing assurance. It was an utter disappointment when the girls behind me got called onto the podium while I was completely skipped. After the ceremony, I was lectured by the person in charge that people make mistakes sometimes. I guess in my case, four mistakes (registration, reporting, checking, and re-checking) stacked up against me. Oh well, it is history now. No big deal. Nobody can take away my time, of which I'm most proud. Would I have won the most-improved award if there were one?   Wink

I still have a lot to say — about the real nice and fun people I met on this trip, the encouraging words I heard during the race, the good times we had hanging out with our friends Derek and Jeff, and so on. But it's past my bedtime now. So, thank you very much for reading and hope you had a great time at Downieville too if you were there.

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What is a trip report without the most important part, the people, in it?


Well, actually I don't know most of these people. On the course, I kept hearing encouraging words from strangers. Many from my fellow female racers such as "Yeah, you go, the skirted." The course volunteers were encouraging as well. On Pauley, one guy shouted out both to his companion and to me, "At least, she's riding it!" (A couple of guys were pushing on the side of a very rocky section.) I wouldn't dwell on that "at least" part. Remember the guy I told you about last year who walked across to our campsite to share with us his painful experience of pre-riding the XC course? On Friday, when Erik and I were setting up our tent, a truck pulled into the drive way across the road. A guy stepped out and I almost screamed in disbelief. I whispered to Erik, "See that guy there? Remember him from last year? Man, he looks ripped! Oh, I bet he is doing the XC race this year!" Sure enough, it was Mr. Crash (Mike). For someone who backed out of the XC race last year, he did amazingly well this time pulling a 3:14 finish time and he did the DH race next day. Good job, Mike!

And then there was NoBalance (Kris). Last year, he, a total stranger to me, made a comment to me while passing, "I saw your website. Nice job!" Since then, we've had a few PM exchanges. I knew having suffered massive cramps last time and finishing only 9 minutes ahead of me, he was determined to improve his time this year. And he did by a big margin , but I improved even more. So, when we met in person on this trip, after some friendly chit-chat, he parted ways saying, "Next year, I'll beat you." Kris, I've never liked the pressure of a competition, but if that's what motivates you, bring it on! I have no doubt that you will do better next year.

On the long climb up, I traded positions with some people. Then on the rolling fireroad after Sunrise, it became obvious that I was crisscrossing with one big guy. Everytime there was a dip, he would bomb down by me even though we both were coasting and the momentum would carry him up ways. But then I would catch up and pass him pedaling up hill. After a couple of repeats, it became comical. I would whisper to him when I rode by, "Here I am again." And he would laugh out loud, "There she goes again." He disappeared as soon as we got on the downhill leading to the start of "baby heads." But after the race, he came up to me by the river jump. It took me a second to recognize him. Scott from LA. We had a good laugh about our encounters on the course.

The evening after the race, we hang out at Derek and Jeff's connected deck outside of their cabins. We ate dinner, drank wine, had brownies, and watched bike porn. No, just kidding. We watched a Hans Rey DVD. Down from us was the creek through Sierra City, and above was a half moon peacefully hanging in the sky.

Good times.

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