I did say that I wanted to change my relationship with failure, right?
For me, mountain biking is a place to play around with life’s emotions. It’s a place to test out new theories, new feelings and create new stories about myself. It’s a more accessible venue to address some of my negative self talk and less-than-amazing confidence than alone in my head. It’s a place for me to rumble. Here’s the true story of how the (literal and non-literal) places I explore while mountain biking has helped me to re-frame competition, failure and pure enjoyment.
This year has been an interesting year for me, in terms of mountain biking. I’m not riding as much as I usually do. I’m doing other activities (like finally following through on strength training and running). It feels great to be rounding out my physical activities and that rounding complements my cycling in so many ways. The lack of actually riding, however, has left me a little out of shape (from where I was last year) and ill prepared for continuous gnarly descents (I’m doing great on short ones). Despite this, in classic form, I decided to jump in a little over my head. Don’t worry though, I picked the perfect venue, the Sturdy Dirty.
Last year one of my goals was to race my first enduro. I’ve been getting a little rowdy on the downhill and wanted to expand my racing experience. So I signed up for the Sturdy Dirty, an all women’s enduro full of fun, laughs and adventure. Unfortunately, this happened, and I was unable to ride. I was able to attend with the crew and hang with some awesome husbands during the event. This year I wanted in on the action. So as soon as registration opened for 2016, Sarah and I jumped all over it. I was pumped. I had really upped my game last year and decided to sign up for expert class despite my fears of racing on an unknown double black trail. I wasn’t able to get out for a pre-ride and I did little (okay no) training for the race. It left me a little nervous, but I refused to back down from expert. Even though I thought about it (and I thought about it a lot). Better to aim high and miss than to sandbag, right? Riiiight.
Because the Sturdy Bitches were really upping their game with the race, there was a pre-ride/skills clinic held the day before. It was ideal since Sarah and I hadn’t made it up north to practice and now we could get a few runs in and polish our skills.
Although the day didn’t go exactly as expected, Sarah and I still got a lot of riding in with a bunch of rad ladies. We started out with a pedal up to lower predator and I loved it! Meggy (aka my Guerrilla Gravity Megatrail) was ready for everything and the thrill of popping over small rooty, rocky drops and rolls immediately put a smile on my face. The day was just muddy enough to splatter your face but not throw your lines. I was reminded that Tiger Mountain is the home of intimidating roots and rocks that all have safe roll outs if taken slow and with confidence. SO MUCH FUN!
We tried to hit up the next shuttle but JUST missed it. Half of our crew got on, so we picked up a new batch of riders for another pedal up to a new, only open for the race, trail known as section D. Again, awesome. I was feeling good and hitting everything with confidence and grace. I was feeling good about my expert decision (especially when Sarah said she wouldn’t let me back out) but still worried about upper predator, that double black with the rocky roll out that I was terrified of.
We were able to hit up a shuttle at lunch time (thanks to Compass Outdoor Adventures). We tackled our first pass down the mountain and I was still feeling good, albeit getting a little tired. I hit up the V-tree a few times until it felt smooth and found my line. My first attempt ended with me getting stuck between the trees, but balanced enough for me to put up my hands and say, “so this is the vag huh?” I like to think it was pretty amusing for the ladies watching. At least it was to me. By the time we got down, Sarah and I were both feeling tired, but I hadn’t been able to ride the trail that was nagging the back of my mind.
As we rolled up for the last shuttle, Sarah tossed in the towel and the shuttle driver hooked me up with one of the coaches for the day and local predator expert, Karen. As we were waiting to see if anyone else had another lap in them, fellow MBO guide, Mielle, rolled up looking for a ride and I convinced her to ride with us (even though she wouldn’t be racing it the next day and the rain was starting to hit). What a champ!
I had built up the trail so much in my mind, but it wasn’t nearly as gnarly as I had expected. Lots of fun lines and several challenges along the trail. I told Karen that I wanted smooth and we sessioned many of the challenging sections until I could hit the right line (or any line in some cases). By the time we got to the bottom, I was so tired that I didn’t even have it in me to tackle the rocky roll out. I rallied enough to ride lower predator again, but that was all I had. Karen was an awesome coach with skills that I dream of having. Seriously, when she talked about pressure control and told me to unweight, I couldn’t even follow her line because I was so amazed by how much air she got from that. Time to start practicing!
That rock roll out haunted my dreams. Even after an insanely delicious dinner with fellow racers and a spectator/coach (thanks Diana and Kat!), it still danced in my head that night. I like racing because it gives me something to train for. It gives me focus. However, as anyone who has ever played Monopoly with me knows, competition can sometimes make me a little weird (some would say a monster). And this race made me weird. It wasn’t even really the competition. Since I was racing expert, I had already decided it was just about me. The day before I had caught myself saying that my only goal was to not finish last. A minute after I said it, I had to circle back and correct it. My real goal was to get down the trails without injury. And spoiler alert, it’s a good thing that I corrected that. It gives you a picture of where my mind was though. I was getting wrapped up in fear and desperation and was NOT being my best self. A weird little monster was setting up shop in my head and I played right into it.
Race morning came and I wasn’t able to ditch that monster. I was unsuccessfully talking myself off my ledge. I just kept milling around in my head. I chatted with other racers about my fear of the rock roll out. They met it with amazing confidence and assured me the second roll out (which I rode twice the day before) was much harder. And I could see that. The top one is all mental, but that is where I was. I was in the land of mental monsters. The roll out just gained more and more power and in my head it was a 100 ft cliff but no one else could see that. Really, the idea of the trail became the swamp of sadness to me and I was sinking. I was fighting it, but it didn’t matter. I was Artax. I was sinking. And the weather matched my mindset. It was wet and muddy and the rain kept coming.
I kept up the good fight as a pedaled up to the first stage. It is a long pedal and there was plenty of chatting along the way. I tried to distract myself and it worked for a while. The first three stages were fun trails that I really enjoyed. When I finally decided to leave the smell of frying bacon to tackle the first stage I thought to myself, “fake it til you make it.” I lined up and then quickly realized that I had climbed myself into the middle of the pro field. Hmm… The monster kicked around in my head and I quickly abandoned my No Apologies! spirit and started riding for our alternate team, All Apologies. I let one pro go ahead of me and when I realized I couldn’t stand there all day, I let the rider behind me know that I was new at this and to just let me know when I needed to pull over (what else could I say?). There I was. My head was a mess and Oscar the Grouch was timing me. Really, that is how far gone I was. I was surrounded my fun and costumes and I was shaking in my Five Tens. Oscar sent me on my way and I had a little fun as I tackled the muddy trails, but I was in the mindset of the prey. I knew they would be coming.
And they were. I happily made it past the road crossing and found someone else stopped up on a feature I would have ridden. But I didn’t ride it. I pulled over and that is when the first one passed. I jumped to the side of the trail for many people that day. All of them fierce and on point. I still can’t decide if they have racing mojo that I will never have, or if they too were just holding on. I suspect a little bit of both, because no matter how much I like racing, I like fun more. I like to maximize my fun on the course as much as others and I don’t know if you can do that while going ALL OUT. At each stage break I was surrounded by muddy happy faces and amazingly silly aid stations and I still felt confused. Was I having fun? The last stage was still looming in my mind. I had finally come to terms with the fact that I was going to ride it in this muddy muddy weather and that I would survive.
The last climb up was amazing. A good trail climb can always put me back on track and it did. The lush green foggy forest was too much to handle. It was the picture of the PNW. It was rejuvenating. I took a breath and focused on what I was doing. I was living in the beauty of it all and I was riding my bike. Inspired by some summer camp graffiti, I thought to myself, “Be heer now.” I found my reset button and I was so happy that I hadn’t bail out of fear. I found my fellow climb loving expert riders and chatted about science, fungi and life as we rounded out the last of the climb. We had all been given the advice to walk the last climb to save our energy, but I couldn’t agree more with their sentiment, “I just want to ride my bike.” That is what were were here for and I was finally ready. I just wanted to ride my bike. And while I didn’t make it up the climb without some pushing and I CERTAINLY didn’t make it down upper predator without some walking, I finally beat the monster. Sometimes it takes conditions that you can’t take seriously to make you realize it is all about fun. Life is all about fun. There were so many spectators on that last section and they cheered me on when I was on AND when I was off my bike. After walking the rock roll out (I’m sure it is harder to walk than ride), I started a conversation mid-race (yep, certainly not a serious racer) until they reminded me I was racing! Oops. I set down lower predator with a smile on my face. That is why I race. For fun, for pushing my limits and for community. I whooped and made faces at spectators as I tried to keep my traction over roots and rocks. I came across the finish to find Sarah and other friends. I thanked a fellow racer for her infectious smile throughout the race and she gave me a big hug. Seriously. That is why the Sturdy Dirty rocks. You cross the finish line and hug muddy happy strangers. I love it.
I still feel confused about my race, but ultimately, I think it was good for me to wrestle with that monster. Perhaps I could have wrestled with a smaller version of that monster in the sport category, but it doesn’t matter. I was the 4th one in from my category, but my time left me dead last. It is hard not to be a little disappointed in being so far behind, but I had made my goal. I didn’t give up and I made it down. Even better, I was laughing during the hardest part.
Thanks to all who made it possible and to everyone who have me such and awesome environment to struggle in. I wonder what next year will bring.
For a less conflicted write up of the event and some awesome photos check this out: Nikki and Colin’s Pinkbike Report