This sure has been one heck of a rainy season! It seems like every time I open my Weather Channel App to check the ten day forecast it’s filled with clouds, lightning bolts, and rain drops. This makes for a very sad mountain biker. I know we were in a severe drought just last year, and our lakes desperately needed the rain, but I do miss the dirt. Don’t get me wrong, I love road riding. In fact, it generally makes up more than 50% of our training. But now that the trails are closed and literally underwater, we’ve been forced to adapt to our environment. A few weeks ago was the final race of the Texas Cross Country Mountain Bike State Championship Series in Warda, TX. We knew the area had recieved heavy rainfall throughout the week and more likely than not, the trail was going to be a muddy mess. I’ve never really been a huge fan of racing in muddy or wet conditions because for one, it can take a toll on your bike and more times than not you’ll find yourself replacing brake pads, bottom brackets, head sets, etc.. For two, it can significantly increase the danger factor. Anyone who rides and races bicycles knows and accepts that every time we throw our leg over the saddle there is a risk of injury, but I don’t know if it’s the personal trainer in me who has learned from the bodies of my 50, 60, & 70 year old clients, or the memories from fifteen years of bull riding in Carlos, but we both would strongly prefer to keep the rubber side down and the danger factor to a minimum. This is also why we have put a great deal of time and energy this past year into improving our technical skills. When race weekend approached, our choice was simple…it was no dirt or wet dirt. So we chose wet dirt. Friday morning we loaded up the camper and drove four hours south to Warda. The last two hours was steady rain and when we got to the ranch the word was that it had been raining there all day. This put a bit of a limp in our step when it came down to finding dry land to set up camp. We scoped out our options, aiming for a spot under a tree, because if the sun finally decided to come out and play it was going to be a steam bath for sure! So we pulled the camper down to a spot near the expo area and next thing we knew our truck AND camper were completely sunk into the nasty mud and we were stuck! It was so bad! I’m sure we looked like such rookies, scratching our heads, tires spinning out and smoking up, only to sink deeper. I was having a panic attack, and coming close to tears. There was definitely tension in the air. Then, Mother Nature decided we needed a little more excitement in our day as lightening struck so close to our truck that I could see the flicker, and every hair on our body stood up! It was followed by the loudest and longest rumble I’ve ever heard in my life! After about an hour of helplessly trying to get our truck out of the mud, we finally went back to the ranch house and asked for help. Alan, who is a super nice guy, was so kind to get us out of the pickle we were in. It wasn’t an easy task and even his own 4×4 pickup got stuck more than once. It took more work I think, than even he had imagined. But finally we were free and Alan was able to get our camper and truck up to higher ground.
The rain stopped long enough to give us a break and we popped up the Aliner next to the bike wash, right where Alan had left it. Even though the ground there was wet, the whole expo area was so muddy that we were scared to try to move it and get stuck again. Although this was far from how we imagined our camping spot to be, we decided to call this swamp our home for the weekend. While setting everything up our water pump died, and our generator didn’t feel like working either. It was really playing out to be a GREAT weekend (sarcasm). After a couple more hours went by, it looked as though more and more water was accumulating outside the camper, and at this rate we’d be sunk into the ground by the end of the weekend. So here we go again, tear everything down, hook up, gun it across the field so we don’t get stuck, and alas we are on firm ground! Still no water pump, but a fellow camper did help us figure out the generator situation and we were up and running! Right when things started to finally settle down and run smooth, I went to cut a slit in the top of an Ozarka 2.5 gallon water container and my knife slipped. I cut straight through the entire side of the container and water immediately exploded everywhere! All over the floor, the rug, on top of Carlos’ cycling bag…everywhere. I had no words. Not even the bad ones. I think at that point I was in total shock and disbelief of the line of challenges that this day had brought forth. We had arrived at the ranch at 2:30pm and didn’t kick our feet up until 9:00pm. I’m not a big drinker, but the beer sure did taste good that night!
Saturday morning, before that Cat 3 and Cat 1 races started, I decided to go out for a pre-ride of the UCI style course to see what I’d be getting myself into the next day. It was exactly what I thought it would be like, an early season cyclocross race. Riding through the saturated fields of grass and mud was giving me flashbacks of the Houston Cross races we did last Fall. I just knew that once a few more wheels rolled through there it was going to get super tore up and messy, which translates into having to really lay down the power on the pedals…ouch. Other than those fields, the trail was actually pretty decent. The ground was slick, just as to be expected, but nothing really stuck to your tires. The only creek crossing in the race was deep and flowing pretty good. In my pre-ride there was an entire section closed off because it was too wet and slippery to ride. In retrospect, I kind of wish I had just snuck by the tape and rode it out because that section ended up being in my race and is what gave me the most trouble on the course.
I finished riding just in time to get cleaned up, wash my bike off, and help Carlos with anything he needed before his race start. This year has really thrown some curve balls at him. Of course the crazy snow, sleet, and freezing cold weather at Mellow Johnny’s affected us all, but like I said before, those conditions are not our favorite. Then in Abilene Carlos kissed a rock with his forehead and needed 11 stitches above his eyebrow and 3 in the corner of his eye. Needless to say Pace Bend was another wet, rocky, and slippery race which served its purpose to get the monkey off his back and be back to racing again. After the monsoon that hit Big Cedar the day before that race, we both decided to ride our road bikes instead and stay on dry ground. So ultimately, this year was a wash for him, and after everything we had gone through to get to Warda the day before, how could we not race?!? He lined up and there was a crash right from the start. Thankfully no one was badly injured and Carlos had avoided it. His position was good going into singletrack and every time he popped back out of the woods he was all smiles and having a good ole time. He was all smiles as he finished nice and muddy in a solid 10th place! It didn’t rain the whole day, but it sure was getting muggy!
The forecast for Sunday was not looking promising. There was a chance of rain in the morning, but we were all crossing our fingers that it would miss us! I was really focused on staying mentally prepared for the worst, which was probably a good thing because we woke up the next morning to pouring rain. My race was at noon and honestly, I hadn’t even register or paid my entry fees yet. The Cat 2 racers went off at 9:30am and they raced through the thunder and lightning. I don’t know if it was because the weather got so bad or the lap times were taking much longer than expected, but all the Cat 2 racers were pulled after only one lap. About this time is when Carlos looked at me and said, “You know you don’t have to do this right?” You see, after my last win in Coldsprings, my points lead was locked into first place for the State Championship. Therefore, the outcome of this race would have no change to my position in the standings. But in my mind it came down to two reasons why I wanted to race. The first was because I I felt like this was the perfect opportunity to gain experience riding in challenging conditions like these, without such a high danger factor (i.e. no slick, wet rocks on this course). Maybe one day I will be faced with these same conditions and hopefully then I can pull this experience out of my racing arsenal. Second, our team, Team PACC, was in a very tight points battle for the TMBRA Team Challenge. So in reality, I did have a lot of pressure put on my to do well since I was the last member of our team to race for the season and therefore the last to scoop up as many points as possible. There they were…my WHY’s. My third secret why, was that riding in the rain and sliding around all over the place just makes you feel like a kid all over again!
I suited up, while Carlos put a double rain flap on my down tube, which was a savior for my eyes once I had to ditch my glasses. Amidst the thunder and rain I walked to registration thirty minutes prior to the race start. It was so crazy to see close to our largest women’s field lining up in the muddy field. Now those are some tough girls! I’m so glad I didn’t miss it! I had a great start with the hole shot up the jeep road, but within the first half mile we hit the first swampy field. It was so tore up that you had to commit to whichever rut you could find and hope it’s a fast one. Our positions changed and the race was on! I went down the super fast section called Gas Pass in third and a bit later was caught behind a small crash. As I was untangling my bike from the collision, in the corner of my eye I could see wheels flying by me. I had no idea how many, I just knew I needed to stay composed and ride smart. I rode myself back into fourth place and had a heck of a good time! The creek crossing that was now almost knee deep was flowing crazy fast and on my third trip through there I didn’t quite make it across. When I put my foot down in the water my bike almost drifted away!
Later in the race I slipped into a rut on a descent and almost went off the side of a cliff! It was gnarly, but extremely comical because I couldn’t even get my bike off of me to stand back up! The whole day was quite the adventure! I finished the race in fourth, and I was proud that I had at least given it a shot.
I’m a firm believer in living life to its fullest, and sometimes that means playing in the mud! I’m so extremely thankful for Carlos, who is my amazing husband and coach, my awesome team, and my most supportive sponsors, Plano Cycling and Fitness, Elete Electrolytes, Square One Cafe, Legacy Chiropractic, Legacy Merch, Roman Strength, ESI Grips, Pactimo, LIV Cycling, The Light Co., and Smith Optics! It’s my first year as part of The Watt Posse, PACC’s Elete team, and I’m excited to bring home the Pro Women’s 2015 Texas State Champion Marathon Jersey and my second ever Pro Women’s State Champion Cross-Country Jersey!