Much of the year I dream about spending the spring in California. Whether it's the abundant sunshine and mild temps that brings me spring before spring has sprung or just feeling like one really small fiercely independent piece of such a massive population that declares in it's own way to have so many social norms, each season I look forward to the drive west.
You can pretty much get it all in California, oceans to mountains, desolation to urban congestion, obscuring pollution to fresh clean air. I typically sample some of all of this but as a bit of an introvert I can become overwhelmed with too much whirling around me. A week in San Francisco was the pointy end of that stick and I happily bid goodbye to the coastline and struck out in an eastern direction.
Taking my desires to be clear of the masses to heart, I made sure I had a full tank of gas and traveled out of California through Nevada on the highway dubbed "the loneliest road in America." I sought out the brown Parks and Recreation signs that generally mean "something cool to see here" and explored everything from old railroad beds to an earthquake fault line from the 1950's that raised the mountain range an average of six feet in a matter of minutes.
I landed in Moab, one of those places that sees an awful lot of tourist traffic but still tourists with a penchant for the outdoors. The locals vibe there is super appealing to me, many folks calling Moab home sharing a comforting "just let me alone" mentality. The week was refreshing, good friends new and old, plenty of time to get sorted and feel organized again while also having a few adventures. I was back to feeling like me just in time to finally step foot back in Colorado.
I've raced 12 Hours of Mesa Verde for the past six or seven years. The trail is fantastic, the county fairgrounds venue is welcoming, the people are friendly, and all the proceeds get donated to charity. It's a win-win kind of race that starts at 7 am with a massive cannon shot echoing off the walls of the surrounding mountains and cheerfully ends at 7 pm later that evening with free beer, dinner, and awards in the transition barn.
I did race the duo category one previous year but found that experience less enjoyable as you never actually see you partner besides rushing through the baton handoff. All the fun of telling mid-day stories or sharing snacks and down time is sadly missing. This year I was racing with Errin and Aerah - two formidable amateurs - in the three or four person category. Aerah joined us from Arkansas after I met her last November at a race and stayed with her for the better part of a week. Errin I also met at a race when she saw me barely able to walk from back pain and worked some physical therapy magic moments before I joined the start line of a successful cyclocross state championship race.
We set up camp Friday evening, took a pre-ride whirl around the course, and made some degree of a camping dinner before laying out clothes of the morning and climbing into bed. We nominated Aerah to go first (which speaks volumes about her tenacity as she had no idea what to expect) and after a frantic session of "where the heck did she go" after I begrudgingly suggested she should warm up with ten minutes to the start (read: time to head to the starting line for the Le Mans run to the bikes) I had her bike ready for her in the corral with the 500 or so others.
My lap was second for the day with Errin rounding out our posse as anchor. We laid down a few laps, we were near the top ten in the standings but not holding out anywhere near the podium. The girls were a bit stressed, they know I want to be leading but truthfully it's not something I would be upset about, we are there to have fun and ride good trails first and foremost. The real fun came to play with our numbers, as a three person team racing mainly against teams of four, each of us essentially raced a different rider every time we went out for a lap. With each lap taking around an hour twenty to an hour thirty in time, by the completion of the twelve hours a winning women's team typically completes eight laps.
Errin was holding steady in the heat, and Aerah went out for her third go of the day as I readied to get dressed one final time to seal the deal for our teams eighth lap of the course. We were hovering in at around 7th place and as we were pretty far off the podium I figured I would just get out there and spin through the final miles. The irony of that statement is that as soon as I get out on course, the fun of the trail and the need to pass and then not slow down in front of another rider takes hold and I build speed as I progress. The fatigue I set out with fades away with the waning sunlight and cooler temperatures of the spring evening. I started to reel in riders, and the fast and flowy course is exactly what I love to push my limits on. I noted that I caught and passed a few women, but I really had no idea if I had upped our chances of taking a podium spot. I let the thrill of the fun course drive me forward and brought the lap home to the transition barn.
My teammies were there to greet me and we exchanged high fives while we sauntered back out of the barn. "So where did we finish?" I asked Errin who was working to pull the updated results up on her phone. She stopped walking and amidst the packed crowd of riders, friends, and teammates surrounding the finish, and we turned around to look. "Holy crap you pulled us into third!!!" She exclaimed. Aerah retorted, "We did WHAT?! No way!"
Random folks around us offered high fives and congrats; I've taken first place at this race every previous year I've competed in it but this was the first time I felt such elation at the final result. In a way I was way more proud of my teammates and myself for sticking it all the way to the finish to pull off a surprise podium than I was for spending the day leading the field. None of us were by any means the fastest rider of the day but we worked hard and we worked together to stay consistent and be strong. It was fantastic to see that pay off.
There were plenty of giggles to be had over our random team name of "Bananarama," the group texts coming through our Garmins while racing covering all manner of girl talk, entertaining rider interactions, the fact that Errin and her hubby had their kittens in the camper with them, and the friendly banter back and fourth with the guys team that were co-camping with us.
Having had a few weeks away from racing and still working to heal from my recent run in with the wall at Sea Otter, this week was a refreshing welcome back to the state I love so much.