The last two weeks of July and early August were jam packed with some of my most serious races of the year, and also some of my most fun races of the year; XC and STXC National Championships, Boston Rebellion Pro XCT, and the good ‘ol Downieville Classic. The racing and travel block started off with Nationals out in Snowshoe Mountain, West Virginia; the first stop of mine and my family’s 2 week East Coast vacation built around my races.
Leading up to this racing block, which was also the peak of my season, I was getting pretty burnt out on the bike. The long hours throughout the many months preceding the races as well as the stress and anticipation associated with such lofty goals and expectations of races to come, and results from races that had passed, were starting to add up. Add to it a month long spell of near or over 100 degree temperature here at home; and riding bikes hard 5 or more days a week was sounding less and less appealing. As the race block got closer, I was having trouble getting out on the bike and giving it my all to really give it one last push to prepare for the final races. My riding buddies and teammates were doing no better as the incessant heat and long season was starting to take its toll on everyone. Nonetheless, after discussions with my coach and several mentors and friends, I reevaluated my goals and expectations for the coming races and found the motivation to roll into Nats with a full head of steam, ready for whatever may happen and excited for the opportunities to come in the following weeks.
This trip was my first time travelling to the East Coast and I was super excited to see and experience sights and places I had been hearing about for years, not to mention the riding and races! We arrived in Snowshoe late Tuesday night and got settled into our rental house right near the race venue. I awoke the next morning to a light drizzle and cool temperatures, definitely a nice change of pace from back home. After burning in 6 or 7 laps on course during practice times, I was getting stoked for the races. The course was super fun and unlike anything I had ever ridden before. Tight singletrack through the trees, sections so rooty you couldn't see the ground, and greasy rock chutes running through moss covered trees, this course looked like something out of Jurassic Park compared to the dusty blown out trails of back home. Add in a few steep climbs, sporadic thunderstorms that would shut down the race on the lead lap, and man-made rock gardens and this race was looking to be both super challenging and really fun. After a thorough soaking only a few hours before that postponed the race, the Short Track course was looking pretty sloppy. Being my first Elite level National Championships, I was anxious on the start line but ready to give it my all. After a poor start, I was relegated to sliding around the corners in the mud and using my cyclocross skills to pass people while running through the rock garden due to traffic. I worked my way up the whole race, ending up about 50th or so, picking other racers off until the last 5 minutes when my group was pulled due to a flying Howard Grotts coming around the course, knocking us out of contention.
The U23 XC was Sunday morning, and the last night’s intense rain (we probably got over an inch in 15 minutes) turned the course into a boggy and greasy slip and slide. The root section turned into a running race as the mud was over a foot deep in some sections and the greasy roots were basically ice. After getting through that section, I focused on being really smooth throughout the race and keeping the bike upright in the slop. About halfway through, I was caked in mud, clawing my way up the climbs, splashing through the puddles, but having a riot. The East Coast course was a treat to ride let alone race. I ended the day 37th, which was not the result I was looking for placement wise, but more importantly I was stoked on riding bikes and was having a great time; a result much more important to the soul and in the grand scheme of things.
After Nats, we travelled up the coast towards the next weekend’s endeavor in the woods near Boston, MA. Along the way I spent my 19th birthday in Washington DC visiting the Smithsonian and all of the Monuments, we visited New York, ate Philly cheesesteaks in Philadelphia, rode trails along the New Jersey coast, and experienced everything we could in less than a week’s time. After arriving in Boston Friday, I rode the course in practice and again was thoroughly impressed with the East Coast riding. The course was just over 3 miles, with almost no elevation gain, CX style turns, chunky rock gardens, and roots spider webbing across all sections of the trail. This was a real mountain bike course. In the XC race Saturday, I got caught behind a slip-out at the start again and hit the singletrack almost dead last. The congestion caused us to literally come to a complete standstill for a minute as everyone sorted themselves out, one of the most infuriating things that happens in a bike race. I was able to pass a good amount of people in the first rock garden by riding a tricky high line and then carrying my speed into the next rooty climb, passing people who were walking their bikes. I was able to maintain a great flow through the rough stuff and ride 100% of the race without putting a foot down, a silent goal of mine for that event. After a close call on the A-Line drop lap 1, (I went off a little sideways and almost hit a tree) I was able to regain focus and maintain position. My legs unfortunately lacked the 30 second turbo boost needed to get towards the front of the race, but nonetheless I finished the race technically on the lead lap in 44th (a poor call by a UCI commissaire pulled some riders too early including myself). Sunday’s Short Track race went much better for me, as I had a good start and was able to stick around in the middle group, chasing my hardest. I made several passes in the rock garden each lap, perfecting my line and bouncing off of rocks with vigor. After 25 minutes of pure pain and adrenaline, my East Coast racing trip was over, ending on a high note with a clean and fun short track race.
Even though I wasn't able to achieve the quantifiable results I wanted on the East Coast at Nationals and Boston, I exceeded my qualitative goals. I was able to restoke the fire in me that burns to ride bikes, and hopefully put away enough firewood to keep it going through the fall, winter, and into next season. I also had a seriously awesome time exploring the East Coast trails and adapting to a new style of riding. This trip and my experiences there also helped me realign and reevaluate my goals for 2018 and beyond so they are more in line with my passions and my interests and will keep me stoked on achieving the most that I can while having fun on my bike! My next write-up is on my adventures at the Downieville Classic, it will be good!