It was a quick turn around to leave Cali and head straight for Prescott, AZ. I arrived in time for a beautiful evening pre-ride and course scout session.
For a number of years I lived in the heart of America. Locations that provided convenience for a job that consisted of flying airplanes over the coast – ANY coast – on any given day as they were all equally accessible. I didn’t love these locations but like anywhere there is good to be found, if it isn’t in the terrain or weather then it’s the community. My riding during these years consisted of cardinal direction roads in endless one mile grids, single track loops in redundant scrub oaks and sandy dirt, and hill repeats on waterway crossings. Sameness plagued me and I traveled to race each and every weekend for countless hours of solo road trips to visit other places and have an excuse to ride new trails.
While I definitely love where I now live, I have not lost the love to travel and race, the thrill of riding a new area, or the joy of becoming proficiently familiar with navigating areas not your own. The Whiskey Off Road is impressive as many of the Epic Rides series races are in that you feel so far removed from the populace in such a short period of riding. The majority of the race gives you the impression you are out in the environment on your own with just your competitors for company. The trails are flowing and fast and the climbing is properly challenging.
With many trail options and plentiful connectors I typically split my Prescott pre-ride into two days, one day to ride the start and finish with a shortcut across in the middle, and another to ride the central portion of the course, albeit a bit out of order. I appreciate a look at the track before race day, it gives me confidence to have familiarity with the terrain and a chance to look over any natural changes in the trail. Last year the rain and sleet set me up for a very chilly pre-ride but this year it was perfect. Despite discovering my GPS map was not loaded, I headed out and had zero problems following the course flaggings, even across the cut through to the finish stretch of trail.
I was relieved that I was finally starting to feel comfortable with my fitness and excited to see what I could do race day. My expectations for performance goals are completely my own, while I know that some judge me on my results in comparison to the race field while others merely would love to see me succeed, I am thoroughly motivated by the idea of bettering my own performance. Confidence is one of my continuous struggles but I enjoy pleasantly surprising myself while working to channel these positive thoughts into the ability to push harder.
As the neutral start group began to thin I was pleased to place myself within the back of the lead pack and settle in for the final surge to the dirt. Once we hit the more rolling double track I moved through the group around me for the first descent. Being so surprised that I was in the clear as we started into first section of rough, narrow, singletrack, I proceeded to blow every corner I came onto. This culminated in biting off on a discarded branch of the track and placed me on the top of a boulder I had no intention of riding off of. I lost a few places in the errors but took the opportunity to laugh at myself and quickly caught back to the line of girls on the track. Passing wasn’t plentiful and I opted to save my energy for when it was a sure shot.
As the single track opened to a fire road dubbed “the wall,” the group reshuffled to begin the climb. I was feeling good but being overly cautious as usual and not pushing super hard. As the road got steeper the distance between riders grew and I rode my own pace keeping an eye on the racers in front of me. They were still well within my reach when my shifting started to go, I knew I came into the race with a few preexisting, undiagnosed issues and I was trying not to aggravate them as best as I could. But racing is racing and the stress placed on the bike is as high as the one placed on the rider. Working to be smooth through the undulating trail, I tweaked it just right and the chain came off the front. It didn’t take me long to get the chain seated back on but definitely long enough to lose sight of the girls in front of me. Without that contact it is easy to allow yourself to slow to a more casual pace, it can be a challenge to keep a sense of urgency without an external stimulus to motivate you.
The trail keeps you busy navigating the flowing drops, step-ups, rock gardens, technical scrambles, and a final wide-open scrub brush covered hillside with screaming bermed corners and leg aching descents. As I rolled through the bottom I closed in on one racer just as another closed in on me. We hit the next section of fire road climbing and I settled in for what was to be the warm up for the big effort of the day. I loaded up with water at the intermission before heading down the Skull Valley out and back which passes back through the same feed zone and then culminates in the highest elevation of the day before descending more single track to the finish.
As Skull Valley is a dirt road, I had not felt the need to pre-ride it and this cost me as I reacted to a water crossing by swerving to pick a line to my left. With oncoming traffic currently in the form of the men’s race, I performed the swerve in an arc to reclaim my position on the correct side of the road and consequently exposed my right rear sidewall to the unknown rocks in the water. The telltale protest from my sidewall gave me a moments grimace but I continued to press with the excitement that I was in a good position, was feeling fresh, and could potentially put a dent into my personal best on the climb by working with other girls who have the same interests in throwing down.
The tire became bouncy which indicates a loss of air and I decided to ride it out to the top of the rise in the road I was currently facing. I hopped off, blasted the tire with CO2 as I inspected it to see the damage. The sidewall cut was less likely to hold with the sealant but I would chance it before taking the time to remove the wheel and insert a tube. I made it another hundred feet before it was flat again.
So be it. Mountain biking is a survivors game, racing is a test of perseverance. Not just of your ability to push yourself to the max but of your preparation for the unexpected and your willingness to continue. You can measure your self-worth by comparison to others but that isn’t a quantitative measure. Everyone’s performance is relative to infinite factors and while it’s fun to come out on top the result itself does not define the type of person you are.
I up shifted, pulled over, popped the wheel out and unthreaded the valve as I started the inflate with my mouth. Tube in, tire on, the last of my CO2….it wasn’t enough but it would get me rolling. I was keeping an eye on the passing riders, more the women going down then the men going up. I pocketed any trash and my gloves and went to see what I could do. It wasn’t too much, the tire was low and bouncy putting me at risk for a pinch flat if I hit anything just right. While it was good traction for the climb it wasn’t super fast. I limped back to the aid station at the mid point to the final climb with the plan to holler for a floor pump. The volunteers came running at me from all sides with pumps in hand. I asked for 27-30 psi to keep me rolling through the sharp rocks I was about to descend through. I was pumped up, both my bottles were replaced, a gel shoved into my hand, a spare CO2 cartridge thrust at me. These folks….they don’t even know me, I’m not anywhere near winning much less being in the money and they are here to ensure my success. Imagine their disappointment if I hadn’t been interested in continuing? As a professional cyclist you get to this point by perseverance. Unlike other sports when the decisions are made by coaches and programs, I get to decide how far I am willing to take this and how hard I am willing to work for it. I even get to define success in my own terms.
I finished up the race with the enthusiasm of salvaging my performance. I’m stoked to be out here. I’m thrilled to have the strength to try, the capacity to endure, and the ability to inspire. What more could anyone ask for?