One week into a four week Midwest/East coast road trip and I was dreaming of the Wasatch, riding the Crest Trail and aspen-laced Deer Valley meadows. For the first time in all my travels this summer, I was homesick! I tried to stay positive but was tired of humidity, dirty kits, and camping in a baking hot cornfield-turned-campground. I was cracked and not exactly a pleasant person to be around. A decent but not great race at the Subaru Cup Pro XCT in Mt. Morris, WI was a good warm up for Nationals the following weekend but it didn’t leave me with a post-race high.
A few hundred miles in an over-packed Subaru, laden with 3 tired bike racers, bikes, wheels, toolboxes, tents, and stinky laundry definitely made me glad when we spilled out of the car at Bear Creek Resort in PA. We had plenty of time to ride the rocky, technical course that week and get our lines figured out. The course was fun and lived up to the hype. Sure, it was technical but not in a big, Moab-style way. It required more focus than the fast, flowy trails I’m used to riding but being in PA a few days early was helpful.
When the whistle went off at the start, I succumbed to my normal slow-starting demons and found myself towards the back as we headed towards the singletrack. Staying calm is easy to repeat in your head but actually executing that is hard to do in a race. I tried to pass where I could but bobbled a few sections I had rolled with ease during pre-rides. Crashing on the first lap and bending my derailleur hanger (for the 2nd time that week, ugh!) made me pull my head out of my ass and ride smoother. I had to be super aware of shifting so I didn’t jam my chain into my spokes and I think that cleared up my focus on other things as well.
A storm from the day before combined with a windy morning caused an ill-timed downed tree right in front of Erin Huck and myself on the second lap – kinda crazy to think about now but it didn’t phase me too much during the race. It was light enough to lift up and scooch under so after a couple seconds we were back at it.
The party scene at the technical sections in the woods produced some of the greatest heckling I’ve ever heard. Most of it is not appropriate to put down in words, but it sure made me laugh despite being redlined. I also got a lot of encouragement in addition to heckling – apparently I always look like I’m about to crash because multiple people yelled to me, “Nice save!” while in my head, my response was, “you guys have no idea how much sketchier I can get…that wasn’t even close”.
I worked my way up through the field and found myself in fifth, with Chloe in sight heading into the last lap. With Haley Batten and Jon Jon Drain standing at the top of the first climb, cheering louder than anyone else I heard on course, I didn’t have an option of wussing out on the last lap – I had to go for it. Losing a bit of ground on some rocky/rooty sections, I panicked on the climb and made the mistake of shifting one gear too high for my bent hanger and put my chain squarely between my spokes and my cogs. Fortunately, I’m getting pretty good at wrestling my chain out of there so it didn’t take more than 10 seconds to get it back on and moving again. All said and done, I was happy to roll over the finish line in fifth.
MTB Nationals 2013 is a wrap. I’m recuperating for a week with family in Massachusetts – after being packed in a one0bed hotel room with 3 other mountain bikers, infused with second hand smoke and dirty chamois, a washing machine and a bed is much appreciated! Headed up to Vermont for the last Pro XCT on the schedule before heading home to Utah…I can’t wait.
Evelyn Dong, content writer