Monday, February 22, 2010

The Challenges and Joys of Cross Country Mountain Bike Racing - Blood and Medals

SV Endurance Dirty Gears Mt. Bike Race, Monterey, CA USA, 2/21/2010

Two bad crashes before 10:30 a.m. Sunday morning
Slamming into the ground, not once, but twice, made me wonder if it would have been smarter to stay in bed on a rainy day rather than join the opening cross country mountain bike race of SV Endurance at Fort Ord, an hour's drive south of me in Monterey County.

I felt like a real nut case as I flashed my bloodied arm to pro photographer Conner Jay who was onsite shooting for the Californian, the Salinas newspaper

It was hard to motivate
Only hours earlier, at 7:30 a.m. I looked at the rain and thought no way am I going to race in this muck! The race, first in a series, had sign-ups until  8 a.m. and a start time of 9 a.m. I had already paid but was still supposed to get there by 8 a.m. The rain gave me an excuse to stay home. Yet I did not feel right knowing that my friends on Team Santa Cruz, our race team, (Andrew Murray, Winona Hubbard and Alex Anderson) had rallied and were going to compete despite the nasty weather.

I couldn't let them down.  So I dragged myself out in the cold, gray rain,  feeling fast as a slug. I made it to the venue by 8:15 a.m. and wondered why so many people thought this was a fun way to spend a cold winter morning. My women's race started a bit after 9:00 a.m. I had all the enthusiasm of a grumpy bear emerging from its winter lair. I warmed up thought and then was happy to ride with my friend Winona.

Struggling up 2300 feet of climbing
Owww! The pain in my legs was humbling. I realized that since I signed up to race at the Sea Otter Classic's mountain bike cross country event in April, I have a lot of hill training to get up to speed, literally, for that event. I had to endure one 13-mile lap for sport class. Only the experts - all 3 of them in the men's class, including Alex Anderson, had two complete two grueling laps- unthinkable! Those tough hills at Fort Ord felt endless due to steep climbs, many muddy slick hike a bike sections and my two crashes.

The Classic Face Plant: Crash #1
One crash was so dumb you would swear that I had just started riding - how else to explain going off course and tumbling face first into the mud/sand off a wide, fire road descent. And no, it was not a sharp corner. Just a little off-camber. It was unnerving, but I wore my new armor of sand and mud proudly and regrouped.

Wipe Out on the Pavement: Crash #2
I waited for an ambulance who knows how long. Felt like half an hour, but most likely was 10-15 mins. total. No, the ambulance was not for me, but for the poor girl whom I collided with. About four of us took a wrong turn at an unmarked 4-way intersection. Naturally, we opted to go DOWN the paved road, but those of us in front found out from a random official that was the wrong way. So we started to turn around. As I began my U-turn to go back up the hill,  a woman speeding down the road did not see me/could not stop in time and smashed into me. She was going at high speed and flew over her bars. When she t-boned me, I went down skidding, hitting hard on my left side, scraping my elbow and smashing my thigh.  But I did not have her speed since I was turning around.

Who to Blame?
As I see it,  three people were at fault:
1. The Race Directors - the course was not marked and a group of us went the wrong way and the crash happened, on pavement! eek while I was turning around, U turn.
2. Me - Yep, needed to make sure the path was clear before turning
3. The Poor Gal - needed the control to avoid me on the road

She clearly had a concussion and was in agony. It was really scary. I have never been involved in an accident with another rider, much less on pavement. I ignored my own gushy, bloody elbow and held her hand while the EMTs were called and arrived. I waited with her, praying her neck was not broken, til they put her on the back board and loaded her up. She was valiantly trying not to black out.
* Good news: she contacted me via Facebook the next day and said despite the concussion she is on the mend!

A happy moment! I got a second place medal in my age group. Captured by pro photographer Conner Jay, whom I had the pleasure of meeting when he took the other picture, of my bloodied elbow!

Very intense experience. I am grateful to find out tonight she is okay. Despite the blood and adrenalin and guilt for my part of the crash, I declined treatment and said I wanted to finish. I did finish and am proud that I continued. At the very back of the pack with the last few stragglers from beginning men.

I did get a medal which was satisfying for a different reason
To me, it was a reward for doing the right thing: sitting with the gal who was hurt, reassuring her and staying til she left.

After I crossed the finish line, I was cold wet and eager to have my wound cleaned. I was irritated that there were no medics left (both had taken off with the injured gal). Seemed irresponsible to me that there were none onsite should other issues arise. Thankfully, Andrew Murray, after his own race, was on hand and used his EMT training to clean my wound as well as any pro. In fact, much later, when the EMT returned and asked to see my wound, after she looked at the great bandage job he had done, she too, felt confident he had done an ace job.
Despite everything, I plan to race this series again. My next mountain bike race is next week, back at Fort Ord, with CCCX series.

For full race results and more about the races put on by SV Endurance, visit: Dirty Gears MTB XC Series 1