On Tuesday I unknowingly entered my first mountain bike race for Saturday night, well I knew what I was doing, I didn’t realize that I had never done a pure mountain bike race before. I just thought it was a change from all the trail running I’ve been doing. The realization hit me a few hours before the race when I realized that I didn’t know how cycling races started…
So, with my bike balancing between my legs, my helmet on and my headlamp stuck to my forehead, I waited anxiously at the start line underneath 2 cranes that created an arch. The closer the sun got to the horizon the more I wanted to put my bike away and join the trail runners, but no, I was there to ride my bike for a change. As the last bit of the sun disappeared, the start gun went off and we all hopped onto our bikes and headed into a dark tunnel and onto a wide dusty road. The start was better than expected. I thought everyone was going to push and it would end up with me at the bottom of a 5 bike pile up.
The first section was a zippy, easy and dusty dirt road. The dust crunched in my mouth and stung my eyes as I opened them as wide as I could to try see in the dark. All I could see was one huge bright speckled dust patch all around me that reflected the light from my headlamp. Just when I thought it was safe to hit overdrive, a couple of super sharp turns with big, hard trees looking for love in all the wrong places appeared out of the darkness. Scared stiff I entered the forest, my hands were shaking so much that I couldn’t keep the handlebars straight and struggled to keep on the narrow single track that twisted and turned around the trees that seem to come alive at night. All alone in the dark forest and all I had to show me the way was a little headlamp. I heard voices behind me and in front of me and every now and then I saw someone’s headlamp peak through the branches to say hello. The whole time riding through the forest I was thinking “don’t fall off, don’t fall off.” After I escaped the gnarly windy tree section, things got a lot more straightforward and all I was concerned about was trying to see in the dark so that I could miss those unexpected butt-whoppers.
Feeling a bit more confident I entered the next forest section. I put on my game face and lead a group of other riders through this perfect section of the ouch kind. I had to warn the other riders of low trees, big trees, puddles, sharp turns and harsh breaking. I also had to warn them that someone had decided that it would be fun to put these log-rocky-slabby things across the path. I am not the most confident mountain bike rider and when it comes to obstacles in the road, like those unwanted log-rocky-slabby things, I usually just hold my breath, try not to blink and scream as I ride over them. The problem (or maybe it wasn’t a problem) with riding at night is that I didn’t know there was an obstacle until I was half way through it. After escaping another enchanted forest, I got to the happy place of joyous turns and bends with a good portion of silly, fun single track to the end. Obviously as the end was near I started to appreciate the beauty of riding at night, I looked back at the twisty trail I had just done and there was just one long string of single lights shining in the darkness as everyone was making their way through the track.
As I rode along the last straight towards the lights of the finish line I overtook the all too familiar look of the trail runners pushing their tired legs towards the finish line. I crossed the finish line and a girl with a clipboard came running after me saying I was the 2nd girl to finish. It took me awhile to process what she had just said. I looked around and saw that there really were no girls around me, so wow what a surprise. I was the 2nd girl to finish this utterly nerve-racking race on wheels.