In my family real traditions are few and far between, but there is one that we do not mess with; on Independence Day, without fail, we recklessly consume an enormous tub of corn-based, red-dye#40’d licorice-substitute while watching fireworks. These fireworks, the socializing, even the fact that it’s our fabulous country’s birthday; all pale in comparison to my family’s fiery, annual love of red vines. We can’t stand them on any other day of the year.
2010’s Euro-spanking campaign happened to end on July fourth, so we celebrated being Americans in Germany (as well as surviving all our races with limbs attached) with a rare not-pork meal. With Grillmaster Matt Shriver around it was sure to be delicious, yet as I watched the mysterious chunks of not-pork (seasoned in primary colors) slowly cook, it was red vines I was thinking about.
As I reflected, I realized it’s actually been a few years now since I stuffed myself with cheap candy and watched incendiaries get shot into the sky- it seems my only Independence day tradition lately involves carelessly ditching America on its birthday and skipping off to play bikes with non-English-speakers. Kirchzarten is beautiful and the racing was rad- but for a moment there, I just really missed my red vines.
Of course, now that I’m back on the other side of the pond, surrounded by as many corn-based-candies as I can stuff into my face with both fists, all I want is some vinegar-soaked vegetables and primarily-colored-mystery-meat. Grass is always greener…
Anyway, on the topic of traditions, I’m finally going to break with the one this blog’s been following and give a few positive race reports!
Like I’m finding is typical to Switzerland; the further you get into the mountains, the more unreal the views become. On this particular race-morning I’d dozed off mid-field and woken up to a bunch of Alps crowding every one of the van windows. There were craggy cliffs above, an aquamarine glacial lake below, and an increasingly narrow and twisting road leading us into the little ski town of Flims.
Our first Flimsian was not a particularly pleasant guy; he was very fat, wearing an important-looking orange vest and vehemently refusing to let us drive into the race expo. Apparently our being the American National Team did not impress him at all, nor did the fact that we were transporting Hanna Klein, local German hero; we were late, which is unforgivable to the Swiss (just look at their watches.) So after some time spent struggling against the language barrier and our Flimsian’s smug expression, we ended up walking.
I got to preride with Hanna, who made mountain biking look like the simplest, easiest thing in the world. I started off riding in front, but after pedaling frenetically through some roots and flipping over my bars, twice, I decided to follow her wheel for the rest of our preride. Just seeing the methodical way she rode was calming for me, despite the fact that I was bleeding from my knee and elbow and covered in loam.
The race started on a pavement climb, turned onto a quick singletrack descent, wove along the edge of another glacial lake, and then climbed mercilessly through the woods for a little while. There was some zigging and zagging through the trees which eventually spat us onto a northshore-esque downhill to the finish. I don’t know if it was less technical, the fact that I’d seen Hanna ride it so well, or that I’m just starting to expect the euro-level of gnar, but I was feeling pretty confident about the course.
Then I had a horrible start and was the last girl to enter the singletrack. BUT, unlike every race so far this season, I a) wasn’t ok with riding at the back and b) felt like I actually had the legs to do something about it. I started to fight my way through the tail end of the pack, and passed about ten girls in a huge crash on the flats by the lake. Once I’d cleared the cloud of angry German shouting, I suddenly found myself actually in a race, which I (just as suddenly) remembered I really enjoy.
At one point a faster rider wanted to pass, and I heard the dreaded “achtung” from behind me. Without thinking, I responded with an “allez!” and waved her by. She said “merci!” as she passed, and I realized that I’d just had my very first automatic non-english exchange. Aside from the lame fact that I was getting passed, I couldn’t help but think how cool that was. I also cussed to myself in German when I bounced badly over a rootball, but I don’t think yelling “Scheiße!” in front of a bunch of little kids is quite the same thing.
The course was grueling at race pace and it was super hot out, but I managed to finish 20th (7th in the U23s), which is beginning to feel like an accomplishment. I also had another clean race, which made me happy considering how bloody my preride had been. We finished off a long day with some gourmet pizza and an even longer drive home- 1AM saw me carefully swabbing Swiss bark out of my knee hole at the kitchen table.
WINTER PARK POINT TO POINT
The day before the race I was still jetlagged, struggling with the altitude, and hypochondriacally positive that I was getting sick. I went out for my pre-race-day ride with a dubious attitude- a nap or some hot tea both sounded like better options, and pedaling didn’t convince me otherwise. I felt, in a word, like crap. Nonetheless, I was able to get my heart rate up enough to do my intervals, and I ended up at a gorgeous lake, which made me really happy to be home.
I got even happier when I pulled into Winter Park the next day. After racing in strange lands against strange people on bikes I’d never seen or heard of, it was incredibly comforting to be at the ski area where I’ve spent considerable chunks of the last 11 years of my life, racing against familiar people on bikes with Colorado flags on their seat tubes.
At the start I pounded a double espresso Cliff Shot, then sprinted frantically off the line in the paranoid euro-frenzy that has become my norm. I fully expected to be enveloped (like usual) and spat out by the entire pack at any moment (surprisingly, about fifty girls started!) but, to my extreme amazement, I found myself riding alone off the front. I savored the open road in front of me for a minute before I remembered the twenty-five miles of high-altitude trail ahead of me, so I settled back to fifth or sixth wheel and prepared for the grind.
I was shocked again when the grind never really came. There was no point in the race when I felt crushing defeat or utter hopelessness, and there was no emotional or physical self-abuse. Conspicuously absent were the familiar overwhelming feelings of inadequacy- in fact, the only sensations I felt during the race were positive. I passed people on climbs, I passed people on descents, and I loved every segment of trail in between.
Rather than chasing wheels around in a tiny, UCI-approved circle like usual, this was a point-to-point, meaning we never saw the same dirt twice. The course toured all my favorite sections of trail, winding around the shoulders of Winter Park before pooping out finally in a campground near Fraser. I finished in third, feeling like my legs were just starting to warm up. To say the least, I became a firm believer in the power of my superfly100. Gotta love those wagon wheels.
So now I’m in Winter Park until nationals, surviving on rice cakes, peanut butter, and some horrible soup I made out of all the leftover canned vegetables I could find in the pantry (artichokes, baby corn, hominy, and black olives with a tomato/red pepper base)
hmm… might be time for a grocery run…