Did you ever have one of those dreams that shoots you up right in the middle of a great sleep only to leave your mind busy pondering at the possibility of just a few more zzzzzz’s? Happened to me this Saturday at 3am, the morning I left for the SERC Series opener at the Vortex trails in Ocala, FL. My plans went around and around several times but the short of it is that as of Friday morning, my travel companion succumbed to sickness and I knew I would be traveling alone. I did not have the energy to coerce another sucker into going with me, Ocala is in rural, mid-state Florida and a mere 7.5 hours from my house in Fort Mill. Oh, and the forecast? Rain Sat. and Sun., with a 70% chance of thunderstorms and high wind on Sunday. No worries. Solo road trips are particularly adventurous, right, especially when they begin just after 3am.
Even after buckets of coffee, the first few hours in the car were rough. The early start was nice, though, because I was on the trail for the preride a few minutes after noon. Ha! Perhaps my insomnia at least afforded me a dry preride, as the skies looked foreboding but not quite ready to explode. Registration done, I set out on the trail and began wondering if the preride was even really necessary, except for generally unkinking my body after that many hours in the car. Easy, flat, twisty-turny singletrack between tall trees and Spanish moss was the gist of the first few miles, and I remember thinking that whoever could hammer down the most wattage was going kill this course. Then, out of nowhere, an enormous rock pile. I lifted over it and in a moving trackstand kind of way, pedaled and pushed over without grace. Hmmm. Then a few punchy hills. Hmmmm. Then a few more rock piles. Sweet. Then some jagged, awkward strange things that were not pretty and certainly not conducive to speed. It went on like this for a few more fun miles until it opened up through a field and I could see the coolest dirt jump run! Lucky for me, that was not included in the race, but around and about the XC course was scattered raised structures, jumps and insane obstacles! Fortunately for me, the jagged rocks, punchy climbs and awkward lifts were all the XC racers needed to contend with. This course was a ton of challenge, and a ton of fun! I remember thinking – fun to ride, but fun to race? After a few laps of the 8 mile course, I was done and feeling a bit woozy and tired. I found a spot under a tree to eat the lunch I’d packed, and drove to the hotel to collapse. Heard from some friends I met at the races last year about dinner plans but had to get some sleep. I know I’m tired when I refuse time with fellow grownups just to rest. This mama had a long week!
Race morning I pulled the hotel room curtains; no rain yet. What? Got to the trail and still, dry ground. Warmup, skies dark and threatening. On the line, a 30 second downpour. Just enough to settle the dust on the trail. That was the most rain I saw all day. It was 80 degrees. Things, I decided, could be a lot worse.
The start was a good one for me, with not much distance between the line and the singletrack, I was pleased to be second into the woods. Stayed there for about a mile until I leaned into one of the sandy corners a little too aggressively (so I’m working on cornering, ya know) and clipped a foot out just long enough for Tiffany (3rd into the woods) to pass me. Bummed, I kept her in sight, but she was taking advantage of my mistake and doing her best to pull away. It worked, but on the second lap I caught up to the woman who was first in the woods (Duffy), and went back and forth with her for a while. After the two of us tried to hold our lines despite the men trying to pass on the most technical sections, I was able to get away and inch closer to Tiffany. Ultimately, it wasn’t quite enough and the punchy nature of the course was taking its toll on my legs. Wind was picking up, and branches seemed to be falling from the tall trees all around me on the trail. This was the interval workout that would not quit! The third lap was all about staying consistent and concentrating on using momentum to get up the hills. Stand and mash, recover, grunty climb, awkward turn, recover. In the end I crossed the line in second place but was thrilled that the weather and the distance did not keep me home for a rainy, cold weekend. I rode warm, dry trails all weekend. I was pleased with my performance and even grateful for the solitude, such time that I never get, on the long journey there and home.