Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Sea Otter Classic, Monterey, California, April 6-9, 2006

One Mountain Biker’s Tales of Thrills and Spills at Sea Otter Classic’s Mountain Bike Tour, Saturday, April 8

By Karen Kefauver

Ten minutes into my mountain bike tour at Sea Otter Classic, when my knobby tires sank into a gooey mud puddle and the muck oozed into my shoes, I was glad that I had chosen to ride only 10 miles at this non-competitive event — or so I thought.

At the brutally early hour of 7 a.m., I joined several hundred cyclists who had abandoned their warm beds on a Saturday in order to ride, not race, one of three courses offered for the recreational mountain bike tour. One of the most popular events at the Sea Otter Classic, the 10, 20 and 40-mile mountain bike routes were redesigned this year to include a greater blend of wide fire roads and narrow singletrack paths that loop through the emerald hills of Laguna Seca Recreation Area.

What I quickly discovered Saturday morning was that the recent steady rainfall had helped carve a course unlike any I had ever seen in my decade of cross country mountain bike riding and racing at Sea Otter Classic. One of the first eye-openers was a long, sandy downhill trail that looked perfect for making big sandcastles, but not for riding. On that hazardous descent, I skidded, slipped and nearly tumbled over a toppled fellow rider, who was uninjured.

“The sand is like a pillow,” he declared, springing to his feet. I decided to dismount and walked the rest.
My heart rate calmed down just in time to tackle three hills so steep that most people struggled just to trek up them. I dug deep and managed to cycle up the first two. Catching my breath after hiking to the summit of the third lung-busting hill, I paused to admire the stunning panoramic views stretching for miles. There, I met Kelly Crandall, 42, of Seaside. “It’s hard,” she admitted. “But we are outside, sweating, laughing and having fun.”

Her words gave me just the boost I needed after I had just confirmed that I had missed the 10-mile cut-off and was now committed to finishing the remaining 7 miles of the 20-mile course, which would include more punishing uphills. I gobbled an energy bar, drank some water and realized that I although I had accidentally doubled my mileage, I was still lucky: on Sunday, dozens of Santa Cruz athletes will race that brutal loop while the pro mountain bikers will double it, totaling 40 miles for the conclusion of the mountain bike stage tour.

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