I couldn’t help but feel some sadness leading into the last race of the O-cup season. This final race was the Provincials and that meant it would be the last time I would race with many of the incredible women that have been in the line-up. They weren’t just racers, they were now friends, good friends that made the race season positive and fun. I got to the course at the Nordic Highlands in Duntroon extra early so I could get a chance to talk to many of them and say thanks for a great season.
It’s the second year that the Provincials have been held at Nordic Highlands and for very good reason. The place is filled with roots, rocks, gnarly sections and lots and lots of climbing. If you don’t want to suffer…best to ride somewhere else. To add to the sufferfest, mother nature decided to dump 50mm of rain the day before. That was not a good thing when the rock traction already felt like oil on polished marble on a dry day! The conditions were so epic, the preride was cancelled for the Saturday and this was an important decision to ensure that the trails didn’t get ruined for the race.
Fortunately, come Sunday morning, mother nature moved the monsoon somewhere else, the sun came out, the skies were perfect and the temps were cool. I was excited that the air was crisp and it wasn’t going to be a “breathing through a wet blanket” kinda race. I knew the trails would be slick and patience would be key but at least there would be no battling the rain.
For this event, I decided to add some bling to my bike and my body. Pink ribbons were on my bike, temporary pink ribbon tattoos on my arms and well, I made myself a pink necklace. There was a lot to celebrate and I was putting it out there for everyone to see!
Hanging in the corral, the call-up for the racers who are first in the series began. I moved to the start line and stood there alone. There was a pause and then Adam Ruppel from Chico Racing began singing Happy Birthday and the crowd joined in. I was in shock as I heard all my competitors and the crowd of people sing Happy Birthday to “Yawnee!” I felt so special and knew as I looked around at everyone smiling and singing that this was very a soul-enriching moment.
Once the singing was done, everyone was at the start and Adam yelled “GO!” The hammerfest had begun and man was it harsh. The beginning of the course caught many of us off-guard as it had been changed and suddenly we were doing a hardcore sprint uphill. It was brutally long and felt like a vertical wall to the first single track. My throat was burning and the tinny taste of blood settled in my mouth by the time I was at the top. I got in behind my competitor Noelle who took off like a rocket at the start and reached the single track first. The rocks were beyond slick and I fumbled. Scrambling to get back into my pedals, Linda Shin passed me and I watched her and Noelle zip down the hill. The clock to the first place spot was now ticking and I was losing time. At that moment I knew it was going to be a tough race but I felt determined to meet the challenge.
Pushing the pace, some other changes to the course sent me into a world of confusion and I fumbled several more times in my first lap. Conditioned from pre-rides weeks earlier, my brain was set for certain patterns. The trails were now changed due to poor conditions and I kept neglecting to look further ahead. I would slip, then slide while trying to catch my breath and think, “hmmmm, I don’t remember this.” I finally told myself to ride it like it was a new trail. Anything unfamiliar, I would figure it out as it came and well the rest, I would know what to do if I recognized it. I finally started to settle into a pace nearing the end of the first lap and the hills began to feel less steep and my psych grew.
Heading into the ridge section of the second lap held a surprise for me. Ping-ponging through the rocks with a steep valley to the left, a rock beneath my front tire dislodged out of the soil and turned my front tire left. Suddenly I was riding down the embankment. My eyes instantly grew wide and my immediate reaction was to throw my butt way back over the seat and basically sit on the back tire. I felt my tire hit my butt and I was heading into no-man’s land! I decided to ditch the bike sideways by leaning to the left and letting the bike go ahead of me. Sitting on the ground, I knew I was intact but had a “holy f…” that was scary thought. Grabbing my bike…my challenge was getting back up the hill. My previously injured leg doesn’t like going up. I was stoked that I wasn’t seriously hurt and my leg wasn’t re-injured so I checked my ego and resembling a hunchback, I used my bike as a crutch to summit the hill back to where I had initially exited. That was a close call and I reminded myself that I had to ride smart and to make sure I “rode to ride another day!”
Toning down my speed, I felt the flow on the trails. It was then that it felt fun. Of course I was still breathing hard and hammering through sections that allowed me to do it safely, but the rest was just swoopy, curvy, rooty riding. It’s why we mountain bike!
Going into the third lap, I checked my speed and managed to not ride off the ridge. My thought, “Phew, don’t have to do that again!” Then I entered another rock section that felt smooth and flowing on the previous laps. Well not this time. I punted something which turned me into a pogo. Like a bucking bronco, I couldn’t hold on and down I went. All I could think was “Hmmm, what the hell just happened?” I got back up, hopped on my bike and carried on.
As I was nearing the finish, I just kept telling myself to “be smart, ride smart, you’re almost there.” I went for the finishing sprint up a steep hill and my heart rate hit 190. Crossing the finish line I was seeing stars. I was too winded to feel emotion. Hunched over my bike gasping for breath, Linda kept telling me “deep breaths, deep breaths, slow it down.” I followed her commands and my breathing began to settle. Clarity was creeping in and I felt the relief that I was done and intact. The rainbow coloured stars were still circling in front of my eyes as the cutest little girl attempted to give me chocolate milk. I eked out a thank you as she handed it to me and my reality was complete. The race was over, the season was finished and I was happy.
I knew I had come in second place, Noelle taking the win. We were exactly where we should be. We both did what we could and that’s all one can ask for. As the competitors came through the finish line, there were hugs everywhere and signs of relief that everyone made it to the finish unscathed.
Time came for the podium and what an event that was. Chico Racing got the crowd going about my birthday and as I approached to receive my incredible 2nd place medal, out came the homemade birthday hat. I burst out laughing as Sean Ruppel tied it to my head. It was a present made by Mandy Dreyer, Alana and the Chico gang. As I stood on the podium, I was screaming out the joy I was feeling (as the pic shows). It was such a special moment and I got to see how incredibly fortunate I am to be a part of such an awesome community.
I sported the birthday hat for the rest of the day as I cheered on all the elite racers. My day ended with a dinner with the Chico Racing crew and other friends. It is days like this that give me strength for the hard days…wonderful memories and beautiful reminders that there are a lot of reasons to keep fighting to live.
I set a lot of goals for this year and I achieved them for the most part. The racing season was fantastic. I was hoping for sponsorship, it happened…thanks to OPUS/OGC. Then there was the Canada Cup…hell ya, I got first! Next was the overall series….booyaaahhh…1st place! If I could pull it all together, 1st place for the Provincials…it didn’t happen but I was on the podium, I did my best and I was where I should be. I made it to a 5th anniversary of surviving cancer and I made it to my 46th birthday. Then there is my 25th wedding anniversary. There have been a bunch of speed bumps to get to these goals but I am getting good at racing over them and I am getting more clearance each time.
The O-cup season may be over for the year but my riding is not! There are still some races to attend and cyclocross is soon to begin. The fall is my favourite time of year to ride and I really miss riding with friends. There is also rock climbing, running and well anything that will get me outdoors!
On a final note, I just want to say a huge thank you to OPUS/OGC for taking me on as an Ambassador, Freewheel Cycle for all the bike support, Erace Cancer Cycling for their constant support at the races and bottle feeds and Chico Racing for running such an amazing and fun series of races. It is because of the crew at Chico and other organizers that enable us to push ourselves, find our true potential, become part of an amazing community, stay fit and stay sane!