Mike and I just arrived in Sonoma County where we trained and launched our 2009 race season last March. It's pretty satisfying to feel the full circle, returning to this familiar place for another round. Mike and I are busy planning another ambitious mountain bike season that will be on par with those in recent years. But first, we are taking time to reflect on the one that just passed and be grateful for all the opportunities we have had and the amazing people we have met along the way.
It felt really good to get back into cyclo-cross racing after a four-year haitus. Mike and I have been racing mountain bikes straight through the fall and or winter for the past four years, but this year the New England cyclo-cross race scene grabbed our attention once again. Switching sports made racing throughout the fall and winter feel a bit more flavorful, and something not to be missed. Thanks to what was supposed to be a one night affair in Vegas, Mike and I went from thinking about hitting a 'cross race or two, to racing double headers almost every weekend!
It was a luxury to have three months of time pitting out of one place and even better to have it on the quiet island. There is something just amazing about knowing a place (from a riding standpoint) so intimately that you can rely on instinct about where and when to go without having to even think. This fall, for us, was loop after loop utilizing the familiar knotty trails and flat winding roads of our our east coast home. Though the terrain is not huge, we stayed as fit as I can remember through the fall with the help of our 'cross and cross training programs. We tried to make some time to get in some fishing, pick the seasonal berries, and hang out with Mike's family, but the east coast racing scene ended up asking a lot of our time.
When we got the bug for racing 'cross we figured we would contest just enough of the Verge New England Cyclo-cross series to get a UCI point foothold for a reasonable start position at US Nationals. Somehow over the course of a beautiful New England fall, we got swept up in the racing and it became what was driving us on, rather than something to dabble in on the side as we had envisioned.
After the first few races we were both riding well, I had a few podium moments and was suddenly hungry to try and win races. the next thing we knew, the days were short, the weather colder and I was in contention for the Verge series overall. Some final straws of dedication were being tested weekly and right up till the last race of the Verge series when the planned "rest weekend" before nationals got booked with the finals in Warwick, Rhode Island, as it became necessary to attend.
The final weekend before coming west was hard spent with the double header in Rhode Island while actively packing to make the move from east to west coast for the winter. At the time the logistics were more than two people, who care about themselves and like to sleep more than three hours a night, should attempt. Now somewhat recovered and looking back we feel that it was a good move as it allowed us to secure the overall New England cyclo-cross series title. This is the third time I have been able to win the series though the last time was way back in 2002 and 2003.
Competing at US 'Cross Nationals in Bend, Oregon, was a proper finale to our '09 season. Unseasonably cold temps choked us as we disembarked the small plane at the redmond airport on December 9. Thoughts of "how am I to race if I cant even breath now?!" came to mind as we struggled to quickly put on every stitch of clothing from our carry on bags. The temperature gauge at Carl's said -2.2 degrees (Fahrenheit). Yikes! Luckily our accommodations at the cozy and spacious Howse of Fun, which Mr. Decker so graciously accomdated us with for the week, was the perfect place to unload our bags, relax and rest up for our last race of 2009.
The buzz at the pro races at nationals was incredible - thick crowds spectating the challenging technical race track winding around the frozen Deschutes Brewery industrial park - cowbells, drums, and spirits bolstered by lenient public liquor consumption laws made for an energetic event. The course conditions changed each day, fluctuating from slick frozen ice to slushy mud and frozen ruts. The changes kept us all on our toes and guessing what equipment and techniques could give us the best traction or at least keep us upright.
Competing on such a technical track with the best crowds and race vibe of any race this season was a highlight even though Mike and I considered our finishes to be a bit sub-par. Mike and I were just really happy to be out there representing and jazzed to be part of the incredible festival. By our own account, it was lucky we were able to retain some shred of fitness at the end of what what was an awesome, though clearly by the end, also a bit of a marathon season.
I began bike racin' 12 years ago while I was living in Bend, Oregon, and it was a treat to revisit after being away for 10 years. So much has changed yet it still remains a great place full of outdoor spirit and great people. For the majority of our time there, we were consistently on the brink of a huge party only held in check by a mutual bond of some radically challenging racing. It was fantastic to reconnect with friends and to have an extra three days after the races to enjoy the snowy cross country and alpine trails of Mt Bachelor. We even had assistance from various professional racer/ace local mountain guides who made sure to show us the good lines on the mountain while keeping us on the border of our physical limits at all times.
Thanks to Carl Decker for housing and showing us the Bend that most can only dream of living. And a huge THANK YOU to the crew at Sunnyside Sports who supported us flawlessly for the bike racing weekend and continued to stand by us throughout Mike's first skate ski attempt... shout outs to all the shredders who put us in our place and made us realize that biking muscles tend to get a bit confused in the snow. Keep on living it up in Bend - we'll be back!
For now, Mike and I are ready for a little time off from racing, I do mean a little, since we already have our first event of 2010 coming up in a month! Mike and I will be competing as a team in the Patagonian region of southern Chile at the Trans Andes Challenge ... interested in an adventure? highlights include long beautiful bike rides around lakes and volcanos! (Visit www.transandeschallenge.com for more details.)
Wishing you a Happy Holiday Season and a Healthy New Year!
Whatever you ride, get out there and ride it!
Mary and Mike