Hood River Race Report
Coming in last sucks. I know, it happened to me most of the 2017 season. I would hopefully scan the results for a mid-pack finish or at least a couple decent stage results, only to find my name listed near the bottom. Or, even worse, at the bottom.
After several races, my positivity was gradually crushed by the pile of names above mine. I stopped checking the results altogether, so I could truthfully plead ignorance when someone asked me how my race went. When the season ended, I thought it might be time for a break. After all, why pay eighty bucks, plus travel expenses, to finish last, have my confidence shaken, my self-esteem a little more deflated with each poor performance?
The problem was, I loved racing. I had participated in Cascadia Dirt Cup events every year since 2013, before hip packs and detachable chin-bars, before “enduro” became a bike type. Could I really turn my back just because I wasn’t hurtling down hills as fast as everyone else?
No. I couldn’t.
But this year would be different. No packing my summer full of racing and all its ancillary trappings; the pre-rides, the travel, the weekends eaten away. None of that, just a couple races, that’s it, and only in places where I love the riding, the camping, the experience of being there.
One of those places was the Post Canyon trail system in Hood River, Oregon, the second stop in Race Cascadia’s Cascadia Dirt Cup enduro series. It’s hard not to have fun on this course (just try and ride Mitchell’s Ridge without letting a “woohoo!” slip out, I dare you) and fun was my goal for this race season.
Luckily, fun was also the goal of the volunteers, promoters, even some of pro racers (Lars Sternberg competed in New Balance tennis shoes, a wig, and handed out beer and snacks to fellow racers). Costumed hecklers cheered us along the 3200’ climb to stage one. At the top, along with the requisite performance food, volunteers at the first aid station had brought along a Daisy BB gun and strung up water balloons as targets. Turns out, this was a great way to bond with the other racers. My Joyride Enduro teammate Stephanie and I raced the rest of the day with the girls we met at this makeshift shooting range. It was also a great way to get rid of the stage one jitters.
Any enduro racer will tell you: the first stage is usually a trainwreck; after waiting in what is usually the longest line of the day, your warm-up from the climb is gone, you’ve had too much time to think about whether you’re running the right tire pressure, inevitably the conversation in the starting line turns to stories of crashes and flat tires, so by the time you blast off the starting line, you’re a jittery mess. Thankfully, rather than exchanging stories of crashing, Stephanie and the raucous group of hollering ladies made off-color jokes, all the way up to the starting line, and I started my first stage of the season, Upper Dirt Surfer, with a smile on my face. (I ended up finishing 3rd place for that stage, so remember: dirty jokes > wipeout stories).
Despite the start line shenanigans, this was still a race after all. Once on course, I focused on three things: staying upright, maintaining the 30 second gap between myself and next racer, and keeping my mantra “maximum fun” at the front of my brain - something difficult to do when my senses were in full race-mode paranoia. Was that just the sound of loose dirt under my tires, or was I getting a flat? Should I follow the other racers’ line through that babyhead section, or stick to what I did during practice? Should I send it or play it safe? Didn’t I go faster during practice? Why are those hecklers cheering again, so soon? Was that flicker in the corner of my eye a rider who had caught me?
I have a tenuous relationship with this hyperawareness, if I can control it, I ride faster, but if it controls me….well, then last year happens.
Luckily, the stoke and support of my fellow racers helped to harness the paranoia monster. Each finish was punctuated with high fives, and each start began with joking and cheering. I was doing it, I was doing what kept eluding me last year; I was having fun at a race!
When I handed Camille my timing chip after making my way up the final transition to the staging area, she commented on my big smile and gave me a receipt with my results. I pocketed it without looking. I knew my fun might be short lived. I knew the crushing truth that lurked at the results screen, and I wasn’t ready to face that truth, not yet. Instead of trying to find Stephanie, Erik, Jason, and the rest of the Joyride crew, I rode back down to my car, alone. I cleaned up, changed, and decided that yes, I had a good race, and even if I found myself in my familiar, back-of-the-pack slot, I was more satisfied with these race runs than anything from last season. As I walked back up the hill, I ran into Stephanie, on her way down.
She high fived me, clearly happy, and announced that I was on the podium! I couldn’t believe it. At the screen of truth, sure enough, there I was: 5th place, the last podium spot. It didn’t even matter that 5th place was really a mid-pack finish, since there were only eleven women in my category; in fact, that meant that I was in the top half!
At the end of each race last year, I had to remind myself that results don’t necessarily reflect the rider. And that’s still true. 5th place really was mid-pack. Even though I finished 3rd on stage one, I finished 8th on stage four, the most technical stage.
But last season, I also had to remind myself that riding bikes was fun. As race day approached, I felt dread, not excitement. This season, I didn’t need to remind myself to have fun, it just happened. I’m looking forward to the next race, on my home turf of Capitol Forest, with excitement, not dread. And that, more than the podium finish, is my real redemption. Bring on the 2018 season!