“And there are going to be holes, which may be complicated for some.”
This was race promotor Matias’ rather understated assessment of the trail conditions in Bariloche the night before EWS Round #2 kicked off. What Matias called complicated, I was more prone to label terrifying. To be honest, I was pretty freaked out going into this race, although it’s difficult to explain why. These trails defied classification — there was nothing truly technical about them. At least, there were no technical features, no drops, no jumps, no particularly nasty corners. There were just, well, holes. And ruts. And sand. Complicated holes and ruts, filled with sand. You get the picture. It wasn’t that there was any one thing that I was worried about — it just seemed like a massive crash could occur at well, any moment, you know, when you and your bike were swallowed by a particularly complex crevasse.
And let’s just say that my practice days had been somewhat sub par, with a few crashes that left me with bruised legs, bruised confidence and a general sense of impending doom. Okay, that might be a little bit dramatic but when I woke up Saturday morning I was not excited. In fact, I was pretty much dreading the whole weekend and if someone had given me an option of fast-forwarding my life for the next 48 hours, I probably would have gone for it.
Here’s the thing, though.
It was fine. I was fine. Like, totally fine. I even had fun, kind of, in a “fun-in-retrospect” sort of way. Here are a few highlights (because a blow by blow of this race would be like “started stage one, almost fell in a sandpit, narrowly avoided sandpit but then there was another one” on and on for six stages.)
1. For the first time ever in an EWS, people were getting in my way, instead of the other way around. This sounds bad, but this was exciting to me and I reveled in it. For like, half a stage, and then the novelty began to wear off, because I passed a minimum of three women on every stage (and on the third and longest stage, that number was more like seven or eight). But it certainly kept things entertaining and I really wish I had had a helmet cam running, because I have never encountered such chaos in race stages — people running, people crashing, people crashing while running, etc. It was a glorious, ridiculous cluster fuck and I loved it. I’m also just stoked to see so many women racing in Argentina — and not just racing, but really putting themselves out there and pushing their limits. I think some of the faster pro women were getting frustrated with the traffic jams, but I couldn’t help but find it kind of awesome. A lot of these women were, quite honestly, in over their heads, but they did it anyway, and I have massive respect for that. Plus, I’m hardly one to judge as I’ve done quite a few races that were leagues over my head and I’m better for it. (Like this one, and this one, and this one.)
2. I got really good at what my race buddy Kim termed “out-riggering,” i.e riding down a sandy rut at high(ish) speeds with one leg extended, a la an outrigger canoe. This technique bears a strong resemblance to “flailing” or “being totally out of control” but we all decided that out-riggering was a cooler name, and it was a totally necessary technique for the steep, loose and narrow ruts. I also learned that while one can maintain some decent velocity with one foot out, things deteriorate rapidly should one come detached with both feet.
3. I rode all of the things that freaked me out in practice with no problem whatsoever. Even one particularly complicated hole that I had decided to forego — in the moment, I just rode it anyway, which was a pretty major mental breakthrough, and also indicative of the fact that I was totally over thinking the piss out of this race.
4. While I had quite a few minor crashes (it was fairly inevitable in this race), I managed to avoid any time consuming trips into the bushes like last week’s face plant detour in Corral. My worst mishap was getting tangled in the course tape while trying to get out of Casey Brown’s way on Stage Three. Casey went on to finish 2nd so I don’t feel too bad about the fact that she went hurling past me at light speed on about half of the stages. (She was also super nice about it and skilled enough to take some fairly creative lines so that I didn’t even have to slow down. So major props to Casey.)
5. I was feeling some serious full-body fatigue by the end of Day 2, but still managed to put down some decent (or at least, consistent) times and avoid serious injury so I’m pleased with that. I’m realizing more and more that “keeping your shit together while exhausted” is pretty much the backbone of enduro, and definitely something I’m improving on with every race. In fact, my second day was definitely my better day relative to others, so I’m stoked to see the fitness work I’ve been doing with Matheny Endurance making such a difference. That said, my arms felt like they were one step away from rigor mortis by stage six. I knew I should be getting into a more aggressive position and being more fluid, but I couldn’t do it. I had to constantly remind myself to relax, and stop being so stiff, just to make it around the next corner. In sum, this weekend was HARD and once again, in a completely different way than Corral or any other EWS I’ve done.
6. I finished in 18th place, my second top-20 in two weeks. Sneaking into the top twenty at an EWS was a goal of mine for the year, so doing it twice early in the year is an awesome feeling. A part of me is tempted to devalue this and say that the level of these races was lower than some of the other EWS races I’ve done, but I’m trying to squash that and just be stoked on the accomplishment. Because honestly it doesn’t really matter — I set a goal and I achieved it. Maybe next time I’ll aim higher. I’m relatively pleased with how I rode these two weekends, but I definitely made some tactical errors, had some crashes and wasn’t always totally focused, so there’s room for improvement. I’m excited to get back to working on my cornering (which was maybe not at its best this weekend) and building some more strength in the gym and on the bike, now that we’re back in the US and have a few weeks of *relative* calm.
All-in-all, another challenging, frustrating, enlightening, empowering EWS weekend down.