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April 26, 2007

Barbara Howe kicked off her season at the NMBS #1 event in Phoenix, which marked her return to racing after a year away. She writes about her experience getting back into racing action.

My first race week of the season is over, and I'm glad to be back in the swing of things. After so much time away, I'm surprised at how many things are still the same. Take the airport, for instance. Checking in is still an adventure and the charges for a bike box still vary from airport to airport, from clerk to clerk. I flew down to Tucson at the ungodly hour of 6 am on Monday, and the lady checking in my baggage at 4:45 am was not in a good mood. After a brief exchange as to whether or not my bike case actually had a bike in it (it didn't, my new bike was waiting for me in the desert), she decided to charge me for being both oversize and overweight to the tune of $130. Ouch!

Getting through security is still an ordeal perhaps best described in the immortal words of Arlo: "Proceeded on down the hall gettin' more injections, inspections, detections, neglections and all kinds of stuff that they was doin' to me at the thing there, and I was there for two hours, three hours, four hours, I was there for a long time going through all kinds of mean nasty ugly things and I was just having a tough time there, and they was inspecting, injecting every single part of me, and they was leaving no part untouched." On the way home, leaving from Tucson, I didn't get charged at all for the bicycle. I guess it all evens out in the end.

Racing in an NMBS pro race is still hard, and I still get crushed and finish mid-pack. Many of the same ladies from the last time I raced mountain bikes are still out there racing, and even the announcer is the same. What's different from the last time I was racing? First, I'm my focus this season is mountain biking instead of road racing ('cross fans, don't worry, I'm using this to get ready for a big 'cross season). Second, I have a beautiful new Kona mountain bike and have finally retired 'ol creaky after several years of faithful service. Third, I don't plan on finishing mid-pack the entire season. I would like to move up to the top third at some point.

The Velo Bella-Kona elite mountain bike team spent the week prior to the NOVA Desert Classic hanging in Tucson, checking out local trails, getting to know each other and our new bikes. There are thirteen ladies on the team: ten cross country riders and three downhillers. We've got the bases covered this season with women racing locally, nationally, at World Cups, and even several 24 hour races. Our training camp was based out of Green Valley, just south of Tucson. The arrival of the riders and staff lowered the average age of the community by at least a decade. Everyone goes to bed early here, and golf carts share space under carports. We rode some fun, popular trails at a rather urban area called Fantasy Island and some trails off the beaten path near Elephant Rock.

Friday, the team headed up to Phoenix for the NOVA Desert Classic, the first race of the season for many of us. Some of the more motivated ladies raced the time trial while the rest of us prerode the cross country course. I've never raced a cross country course that is entirely singletrack. From the start line to the hole shot, there was about a hundred feet of gravel and that was it. I knew passing was going to be difficult and kept my eyes open for places wide enough and cactus-free enough to pass.

Saturday night's short track was my very first race in over a year, and I was a bit nervous. It wasn't until Thursday that I decided to race it, and am still not sure how good of a decision that was. The course was a dust fest across from a giant fountain in the middle of the desert. I lasted seven minutes before being pulled and spent several hours afterwards exercising my stomach muscles in an attempt to expel dust from the deepest depths of my lungs.

Either the late race or the late dinner made sleeping really hard that night. Even with the air conditioning, I was way too hot all night. Many of the other ladies that raced complained of the same problem. The cross country started at one in the afternoon, the hottest time of the day, in 90 degree (Fahrenheit or temperatures. Some of the women on the team from the far north had yet to see much daylight, let alone remotely warm temperatures. I can only imagine their suffering. I've been fortunate enough to have sunshine and a few training days that didn't require arm or knee warmers. The sun was dizzying during staging. Luckily the team's new Pedro's umbrellas provided shady relief.

My call-up position left a bit to be desired: 70 out of 71 starters. The mad dash for the hole shot followed by locked up brakes and two wheel skids hasn't changed in the last few years. Somehow even with an undesirable start position I managed to not be last onto the singlerack. The first lap was spent trying to get in front of as many women as possible to avoid being bobbled on some of the little uphills. The second lap was spent mostly alone lauding the merits of full zip jerseys, eating electrolyte pills and Cytomax energy gels. Starting the third lap, I began deep introspective thought as to whether or not I was exhibiting signs of heat exhaustion. Since my legs were still making circles and I hadn't broken out in goose bumps yet, I deemed my chances of not having heat exhaustion rather good. Finishing the race, I was grateful for the volunteers passing out cold water and cold wet towels.

All in all, I was quite happy with my race and finishing place (37th) and left Arizona looking forward to the circus of Sea Otter.


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Just as Barbarella bumps through the universe, comically oblivious to the dangers and threats being thrust at her, Barbara Howe has had a few misadventures of her own. After a year of sickness and a grievous injury she is finally recovered and aiming for the podium.

Barb has recently signed with Vanderkitten Clothing and looks forward to a season representing "clothing for women who kick ass!" She currently resides in Berkeley, CA with her boyfriend, a room full of bikes and her cat. Follow her adventures here on