Friday, June 29, 2007

24 Hours of Adrenalin + Hula Hooping!

Saturday, June 9 - Sunday, June 10
Laguna Seca Raceway, Monterey, CA—

At 10:15 p.m. I set off on my first night lap—I had not done any night mountain bike riding since the 2006 24 Hours race. I was nervous, but also excited to ride under the stars. As part of a 5-woman relay team, Go Go Go Girls, I had been designated the last rider in our rotation. I had only completed one lap before this night time lap and did not know the course well. My daytime lap had gone okay —although only 10 minutes into that ride, I lost the left lens of my sunglasses. It bounced out of the frames and vanished in the tall grass along a steep rutted section. That section of the race course would return to haunt me at night.

My Crash

I was feeling confident and strong for the first 15 minutes of my first night lap. Then I smashed face-first onto the dirt trail. I flipped over the handlebars and BOOM—breath knocked out of me, my face in the dirt, the grit coating my lips and teeth. I lay moaning, terrified. Upon impact pain had shot up my jaw and neck. I slowly picked myself up and moved to the side of the steep trail - the same spot where I had lost my sunglasses lens. I stood there debating whether to call it quits. I could easily walk back to the start line. I looked down and saw blood streaming from my right knee.

I looked like a massive dust-powdered doughnut with some cherry filling leaking out. Grit filled my gloves and shoes. A kind rider stopped to see how I was. He stuck with me and eventually took off. I stood still, shaken. Another rider went by and called out: "Are you ok?" at the top of the descent. "Yes, I am ok," I assured him with more confidence than I felt. I turned to watch this considerate cyclist navigate the steep section skillfully. In the dim light of my headlamp, I was amazed to recognize the red helmet and Team Santa Cruz jersey: It was my fiance Norman riding by! "Norman, it's me!" I shouted as he flew downhill. No reply. Only the sound of his bouncing chain. My heart sunk.

Pivotal Moment
I really wanted to cry, but I latched onto a more powerful desire: to win the Midnight Hula Hoop Contest! The race organizers were hosting the first-ever 2007 24 Hours of Adrenalin midnight Hula Hoop contest. Despite my bloody and swollen knees, dusty face and shattered confidence, I walked and rode back to the start/finish area as fast I could, determined to get to that contest to prove myself. Many of you know, I can hoop with the best of them! On the long ride back to camp, Santa Cruz solo rider Sean Sullivan insisted on stopping to make sure I did not have a concussion.

I rode hard to get back to camp by 11:50 p.m. I passed Norman's tent, which was on the race course. Miraculously, he was there and not out on the race course. "Norman, that was me!" I said, "The one who crashed." He was going so fast and did not hear me when I called his name. His heart was breaking when he saw me covered in dirt. I told him that he had been very kind to offer to help a "stranger" in the night during his grueling solo effort and that all was ok. We briefly rode our bikes hand and hand before we parted. He continued racing and I had handed the baton to my teammate, Rita. Then I went to the Hula Contest.

So You Think You Can Hula?

"Whoa! What happened to you?" the race announcer and hula hoop contest emcee asked. "I did a faceplant on the trail," I said. "Wow!" he said, eyeballing my dust covered body and face.

I downed two pieces of hot corn, helped round up a few other hula contestants and we were underway! The ground rules were declared: he/she who hoops the longest is the winner! I knew I could hula hoop til dawn if need be. Soon enough, I out hooped the others, even showing my special John Travolta disco moves while hooping. I felt victorious!

My moment of triumph at the 24 Hours of Adrenaline mountain bike race had arrived in the unlikely form of being the Hula Hoop Winner. My prize? A pair of fleece shorts, donated by Cowboy, the owner of Fuzzy Duds. I chose the most outrageous multi colored paisley shorts I could find.

Then I sought medical attention for my wounds. A big thanks to Marc, the famous brewer and Mel's fiance, for generously volunteering to take a midnight stroll and look all over for the nearly-impossible-to-find first aid tent.

Grand Finale
I hobbled back to camp well after midnight and woke up Michiko for her lap. The pain was setting in and I went to clean off my wounds in the light of the nearby bathroom. I was horrified to see that both my knees were grotesquely swollen. My left in particular looked like it had sprouted a lemon on top of the knee cap. I knew my race was over when I saw that. I got ice packs out, left the Go Go Go Girls team a note that I would touch base in the morning but it looked doubtful I would ride again that day. I went to sleep about 2 a.m. and slept soundly til 5:30 a.m.

I got up then to find Rita preparing to go out on a lap. That was one of the lowest points of the race for me—I was physically unable to go, or more precisely, I could have gone, but the outcome for my knee could have been serious. It was a big risk. Nevertheless, by taking care of myself, I felt like I was letting the team down. I felt sad, which fatigue and injury can heighten. Rita assured me it was fine that she ride in my place, but I was disappointed—for the team and for myself—the dawn lap is a glorious time to be on the trail while the rest of the world sleeps on a Sunday morning...

Our team captain Henri was unwavering that this was the 100 percent right decision for me not to race with my bashed knees. I felt better and she was thrilled by my hula hoop contest story and goofy shorts. I shifted moods and dedicated myself to being our team photographer for the remaining few laps.

I also had a better chance to monitor Norman's incredible progress in his solo 24 hour race. He had ridden steadily through the night, no sleep, supported by a great crew at camp that included Mark, Evan, Eric and Darik, who were also assisting Melanie Dominguez. I am happy to report that both Norman and Melanie had stunning finishes in their respective solo categories: Norman, 3rd place in the men's solo division, Melanie, 3rd place in the women's. Incredible results against steep competition! Bravo! It was also exciting to see Team Cloud Nine, consisting of dear friends Cory and John Caletti, and their teammates Dan'O, Eric and James win 2nd place in their tough 5-person co-ed category.

Awards Ceremony
I offer a final salute to my fantastic teammates: Henrietta, our Team Captain, from Pacific Grove, Rita Leon of Team Santa Cruz, Michiko of Berkeley, Yvette of NorCal! You guys were super fine Go Go Go Girls. To Barbara, our team volunteer, we could not have done it without you. It was a pleasure to have our moment of fame as Third Place winners in the 5-woman category!

For full event photos, visit: