Back in April I raced my mountain bike in the Whiskey Off Road in Prescott, Arizona. Though I love to ride my mountain bike, I am not an experienced rider. I didn't grow up as one of those kids who was always on a bike. I'm not one of those people whose bike has become an extension of their body and spirit. In my case, I'm connected in spirit, but not so much in body.
Last winter I got re-hooked on my bike and rode as much as I could. Arizona is littered with tremendous places to ride all year round. We've got great desert trails, smooth rolling grasslands, and aromatic, pine-filled mountains - all within less than an hour's drive from Tucson. Many days I was so thrilled with my rides, the buzz would linger for days. It felt great to rumble along singletrack in the desert. I love pumping up long hills. Because I wasn't invested in riding like I was with climbing, I had a certain freedom to start at the bottom. I was a beginner, with all the pros and cons that go with beginnerdom.
Still, a little competition was attractive. Bikes seem to bring that out in most people. Get two people on a ride, and a little competition springs up out of nowhere. So I decided to find a fun race and the Whiskey Off Road sounded like just the ticket. A few friends and family questioned the wisdom of entering a long, hard race. But I was hearing none of it. When race day rolled around in April, I was excited. It's a huge event with 1700+ riders. The course has numerous long climbs, about 4000 feet of climbing spread over 29 miles. If there's anything I do well on a mountain bike, it is climbing. It requires less skill and more endurance, which suits me just fine. Going downhill is another thing altogether.
The race started off great, a typical cool and shiny April morning. There was plenty of climbing in the first few miles. I felt good. About 8 miles in we got to the nastiest, most notorious set of drops on the course. I was embedded with a fun group of riders, and I was a bit apprehensive. We dropped down the far side of a climb and picked up speed on bumpy singletrack. We knew that ahead lay a series waterbars, which were 12 to 18 inch drop-offs, right smack in the steepest part of the downhill. I went off the first of the drops and promptly flew wildly over my handlebars. A full-on, out of control, head over heels faceplant. I was lucky. I landed on my chest, on pretty smooth dirt. It could have been MUCH worse. Everyone stopped. I was a mess - dirt all over me, bleeding slightly from my chin, knees scraped badly. My wrist hurt, but all bones seemed to be in place. After a few minutes, and cleaning some dirt out of my teeth, I got back onboard and continued my descent. At the next big drop, going slower now, maybe 100 yards from my crash, I went over the handlebars again. Nothing was hurt but my ego. A couple minutes rest, then onward. Fifty yards along, another drop and another flight into the dirt. This time I'm OK, but my handlebars are askew and my chain is stuck. I was a little by pissed at myself. I worked on the bike for a few minutes, then get onboard and managed to negotiate my way down the hill.
I continued, slightly scared. My wrist hurt. The bad drops were behind me, and I was determined to finish. There were 20 miles to go. I cranked up hills feeling great. I gave high fives to a few kids who cheered me on. I crawled down hills, refusing to taste more dirt. Four hours after starting I rode into Prescott, in the middle of the pack. My wrist still hurt, but for some reason I was riding as fast as I could. When I crossed the line, I feel great. It felt like an accomplishment. I felt more satisfaction than most climbs or hikes I've done in recent years. My chest was bruised, I had raspberries all over and my wrist took several months to heal. But no matter, it's exciting to be a beginner.