Ahhh, just what a girl needs..a good singletrack race to stir things up. Tour of the White Mountains in Show Low, AZ. A perfect way to spend the first weekend in October, when things are finally starting to cool off and fall colors even begin to appear.
An Epic Rides race, the TOWM is really a lot of fun. It has a huge amount of singletrack for a 60 mile race and takes place in the pines…always a lovely change from the desert cactus. Last year, I came out on top, a winner by 15 minutes over the local great Stephanie Jones. This year, I write this blog as I ice my knee and bow to the now Colorado mountain living, high altitude gal. It was super competition this year…I knew it would be! Why would we want to make it easy on ourselves anyhow?! This year, I suffered much more that I remember from last…maybe my memory is just bad…
Driving up the day before, I’m always already a nervous wreck: ‘We better get there early enough to get packets, unpack, make dinner, prepare race nutrition, etc, etc, etc’. Not this time. This is the first experience I can remember that I felt no nerves. I mean none. Almost as if I was indifferent about the whole thing. But wait a minute. Isn’t there this pressure of how I must perform now that I have a Pro card? Pressure to prove that I really do deserve that status? Yes, that is there, shadowed in the back of my mind; but I still feel no worries about this race. What does this mean? Hmm… Best not to over-analyze. Packet pick-up is quick and easy. We socialize a bit with our cronies camping out at the venue and then head back to the cabin (thanks buddy Haider!) to cook dinner and prepare for the next day.
Dinner is wonderful, pre-prepped (because I am just that scheduled..hahaha), we have sweet tatties and quinoa with veggies (including beets!) and some marinated chicken. Mouth-watering yum! The other boys return from pizza and all the guys start bike maintenence…there are a few tire issues. Nothing like last minute tape jobs, finding of new tires and too many cooks in the kitchen! I think I’ll just sit here, put up my feet and enjoy the show. 🙂
Race morning arrives. Coffee brewing, a few stretches to wake up the ol’ body and a bit o’ breakfast. The other guys begin rousing themselves into the kitchen as we ready to hit the road. Its a cool morning, but feels pretty nice. Should be perfect racing weather! I warm up just a bit and head down to the start line. Did I not notice while warming up? Standing, waiting for the magic moment; I talk with Kata Skaggs (one of the two women I know will be my competition today), its happy chatter just passing time until the gun. I play with my brakes and…wait…what is this?? Nothing happens when I squeeze that rear brake. Uh-oh. I search the crowd for Kevin, see him waving from a distance and I scoot over. “What are you doing?” “Oh my! I have no brake!!” Is there air in it? Doesn’t seem to want to pump up. It just sits there limp, for looks to balance out both sides of the bike…useless. Paul tells me “That’s good, at least you have your front brake”. Ok. Now I don’t know about you folks, but I’m a back brake kinda gal. I’m not sure I can navigate some of this with front halting power only. Well, this is going to be a learning experience…weird tho…still not nervous. Who am I and what have you done the real Beth?! I wish I signed up for the 35 mile…haha, yea right!
The gun sounds and we’re all off. A mass start with about 130 people, men and women, young and old, fast and slow. I see Stephanie just ahead of me (I know she will be my other competition for the day). I set my sites on her and keep one eye open. Ok, they’re both open but one’s definitely on her. Pushing steady, passing some and locking onto wheels behind others. At the first right turn, still double track, I pass Stephanie and keep her behind me thru the initial few miles and up the first ascending singletrack. I feel pretty good. Not killing myself, just riding steady and strong. I can do this pacing thing.Then the first real descent appears. Its steep. Its loose. Its a bit curvy. Around the first curve, I give my rear brake a squeeze. Oh yea, it doesn’t work. Too late, grabbing the front brake, I slide thru the dirt earning my first raspberry of the day on my left hip and thigh. Lesson number one, you can’t just grab the front brake. Ok, I’ll feather it next time. I am slow. I mean, you’ld a thought I was a beginner heading down this hill. I am re-learning how to navigate a descent without my rear brake. Stephanie pulls up behind me and I let her around. I just can’t hold anybody up in my poorly executed downhill…and she disappears. I am told at one point that she is 2 minutes ahead. Ok, its still early on I suppose. Once we hit bottom, there are some turns here and there and lots more climbing. I’m not killing myself here, I just want to gain some endurance and come out uninjured. But I seem to be climbing with strong legs that just keep turning over for me. I keep pushing and then all of a sudden I have crept up on her. I caught her! Great! Now, my old way of doing things would have been to try and out run my opponent; but I think I’ll be a bit smarter this time. I latch on. There are about five of us. We ride together…and Stephanie’s doing the work up front. This is good for me.We hit an aide station, Stephanie gets a hand up and I keep going along with a couple of the other guys. There’s a bit of pavement and then the forest road..for ten miles we will be on this. Pushing steady, a local buddy Matt Jones (a strong rider) and I are at the front. As I take a peak behind me I make the realization that there is no one else hanging on…its just us. Woohoo! We keep pushing, I feel great! Matt does a lot of the work here, but I pull out front a few times to help with some of the workload. Those actual 9 miles fly by and we turn to get back on singletrack (mile 25 into the race). Matt stops at the mini aide station and I keep pushing on. (I have decided to carry my camelbak plus a water bottle on the bike and all my food so as not too have to stop. Since I can only carry one bottle on my bike anyway, for a 5 hour singletrack ride it sounds like too much stopping.)
Enter in the hike-a-bike. There is new trail section this year. It actually deletes 2 miles off the race, but for whatever reason there is this ridiculous hiking section. It is a wall of loose soot and gravel with roots to climb over and everyone is pushing their bikes up. I have just climbed some silly steep segments and managed to stay on the bike. This is not going to be one of those sections! Seems like we walk forever. It is just as hard to push your bike up a steep hill as it is to ride up one. Once to the top, there is some flowy downhill. I am certainly getting better at knowing when and how much to use my only brake option; but I am still not nearly as fast as I should be. I am caught and passed by Stephanie again. As far as I know there are no other women in contest with us. We two are vieing for the winning spot. Beginning the next climbs, I soon start running into the slower 35 milers out on the course. This starts the more technical section and lots of rock to climb over and navigate around. I am doing well with it and managing to pass people steady without having to get off the bike and wait. Wouldn’t you know it….there she is. The back of beautiful Stephanie again! I just stick on her like glue. I think maybe I could climb a bit faster, but I stay with her. We make our way around the slower riders, sometimes painfully slow. If I didn’t know how to track stand before, I do now…up hill and attempting to roll over rocks! Steph lets me go around and not a minute later as the young girl in front of me comes off and I try to make it around, I topple over onto a giant jagged rock. Stephanie comes around, I climb back on my bike and realize as I attempt to stay on her tail that my seat is no longer facing forward. Crap! I can’t ride all cock-eyed like this! I pull over, some nice young man I had recently passed stops to give me his tool and I manage to fix my own seat and take off. Climbing, climbing and then rocky descent. I am spot on and managing well with what I have been dealt, I think I figured out how to use my front brake. Yay! This is a good thing. And then it happens. I am feeling daring. I am feeling confident. I come up on the rocky water crossing with the photographer sitting on the other side. I yell out “which is the line” , not being able to see below the first rock. Stupid! The water is deep, super deep. This is most definitely NOT the line. Brake. Oops! Front brake hard=OTB. And into the mud and rock I tumble. Lying there like a turtle stranded upside down on its shell. Holy hell, this one hurts! There are people around (of course) and I certainly don’t want to hold others up as well. I pick up my bike and my pride and walk over the water and wet rocks. The camera man still pointing his camera at me. Please don’t take my picture like this. Altho I’m sure it will end up on the Epic Rides site (be sure to keep a look out).mMy knee is in major discomfort. “There are medics just ahead”. No thanks, I think I’ll manage to the end. What is there…12 miles to go or so? In my husband’s words ‘you be awright’.I get back on the bike, my lord, I wonder if I’ve cracked anything on there! No time to think about it now. I start the next climb. Its steep. I get part way and I have to come off. I’m not ashamed, I walked it. It was short and my knee was killing me. I took the opportunity to eat and drink at the top and then climbed back on my trusty steed and pushed on. Starting to recover, I ride steady and safely the rest of the singletrack. At one point I think ‘I just can’t wait til the end’, but then decide just to have fun and enjoy the mountain air and my ride. Hitting the jeep road (and some 15 milers?) I begin to cruise faster, as fast as my body will allow me. I know the end is coming near. A tiny bit more singletrack and more jeep road. There is a man sitting at a corner observing and yelling out “only a half mile”. Really, cause I know I walked some, but I only read 56 miles on my Garmin.Finally I can hear the announcer and the music playing. People start to appear and the finish line tents. There is cheering and I hear my hubby as I cross the finish. I made it!
Stephanie was there at the finish line, a gracious winner she is and boy have those Colorado mountains done her good! She has become such a strong rider. Her words to me mean a lot, calling me a fighter and really knowing how to tough it out. This was a good day on the bike!
In the end, I came in the 58 mile, 4000+ feet of elevation gain race as a solid second place, 5 minutes back from Stephanie. I am happy with my performance. I felt really strong and emotionally stable throughout the entire race. I overcame a major mechanical issue without freaking out too much, altho definitely with some new scrapes and bruising, hit the dirt three times and learned a new skill that will most certainly improve my riding in the future. As for that pressure about actually being Pro…I realize its not just about how you perform or how you result in a race; but also how you deal with all the unexpected mishaps and obligations that come along with it. I am proud to say that I placed 2nd to Stephanie Jones at The Tour of the White Mountains, we both deserve where we stood on the podium!
Along with my podium finish. My dear hubby snagged a third place finish in the 35 mile singlespeed along with fellow racer Cory Foster in fourth!
Also, young Eric McKinney pulling out a 3rd place in the 35 mile junior class!
More fun post race:
Needless to say…a post race easy recovery ride occurred on Sunday. Bike paths and Starbucks stops are just what the body needs to heal itself!