We’d heard a lot of things about Snow Hill. Mostly that it was very sandy. That it was a little bit like Halpatiokee, Pinehurst, and Jonathan Dickinson. Well, I’ve never ridden Pinehurst, but I think Snow Hill reminded me most of Halpat, but with maybe a little more sand in some sections. Riding my plus bike (Jemma here again!) was pretty great because it was super fun as usual *and* it handled the sand and rooty bits really well. I like to call it my monster truck because it can climb over just about anything.
I’d just gotten it back from Beyond Bikes, a mystery crack in the frame meant I got a warranty replacement and Bryan lovingly moved all my components over to the new one. It’s not as stealth mode as my black on black was, but I’m growing to accept the intense red! I’m going to throw on a yellow and turquoise bottle cage and call it BikeMinded colors (or close enough!) and just embrace it! Next, I need matching bottles….
Right, racing. So I told y’all last week that I was going to try pre-riding and see if I died, and if not, that I would race Sunday. I don’t know why, but I started to waffle about racing. I pre-rode and was fine, but really wasn’t too sure about racing for whatever reason. I knew my girl Isabella wasn’t going to be racing with me, found out my other podium buddy from last week was at FTF in Alafia, and started to wonder if it was just me. I left it til the morning of and found out that there were at least three other ladies, so I figured, “Yay new friends!” and signed up. If nothing else, I could meet some cool brave chicks and cheer them on while I rode.
The course began with a long stretch of fire road taking a 90 degree turn before diving into some fairly tight and twisty single track. My strategy for the start was hopefully to get the holeshot. I had no idea what I was dealing with competition-wise. I’d met Carol before and she had ridden the endurance race El Lagarto with Cat and Sam earlier this year, so as far as I was concerned, she’s a badass. Then there’s Rachel, who is a very competitive eight year old (I’m guessing her age!). You won’t meet a more confident person on the race circuit. It’s intimidating when someone tells you they kept up with their dad’s race pace on the pre-ride. Dang! We had Candace and Jennifer rounding out our five ladies and so I felt pretty happy about having a good group and completely unprepared for whether I was going to have a chance at all at the podium. I think that was pretty fun, not knowing, whereas last week, there were three of us, sooooo…. yeah.
I almost forgot, I got the holeshot! Hooray! Right before it was our turn to take off, we started dropping little bits of information. I said, “Hmmm, I have no idea what gear I’m in. Oh well.” Someone else said, “Yeah, this is the foot that always slips off the pedal in these shoes!” Another person confessed, “I’m not good at the sprints.” One more person shared, “I’m just out here to finish this.” I don’t know if it was all these little humanizing admissions that took away the pressure or if it was that warming up stuff that I tried for the first time ever before the race, but as soon as the whistle blew, I stepped down on my pedal and rode off with a smile on my face (because pictures, hello! just kidding, I was happy!) and didn’t look back.
I kept expecting someone to come up alongside me at least or maybe even pass me, but it never happened and I was able to dive into the singletrack with that sweet sweet feeling of success. Now I know what all the hype is about. How fun! I mean, SICK!
The soil was light and loose in most places and I had more trouble going fast through the crowded trees than I did maintaining grip. Toward the creek crossing, the dirt got a little darker and stickier and there was a very small amount of climbing on very approachable terrain. As a novice, I was only intimidated by one section just after the creek with a rooty little drop between two trees where the trail also jogged right. Like Zoolander, I’m not an ambi-turner. I have a hard time with right turns. For whatever reason, my body seems to feel more comfortable with lefties. I think I just need more practice. I unclipped and waddled through and then I was off again!
The creek crossing was a lot of fun, there were plenty of people down there cheering and watching including me on round one. Here’s David going through with a flat tire, followed by Ryan.
I made it through and soaked my feet while at the same time picking up a little grit for my rear brake pad. Eventually that shook out. As I was heading toward the water, I glanced up because I could see where I’d just come from. I saw Carol! Dangit, she was right behind me, maybe maaaaaybe 30 seconds. Where the heck did she come from? Well, turns out, these were her home trails, so I bet she knows those twists and turns pretty well. Any thought of chilling out was gone so I took my soggy feet up and around that corner and entered back into the single track.
Some more trails and fire roads later, I felt I had sufficiently shaken my pursuer, but I decided I’d try to keep up a good effort while attempting to regulate my heart rate a bit with controlled breathing. I think I kept it around 175 most of the race, so point is, I didn’t die. Or blow up. For those of you who don’t know, blowing up means you basically hit the rev limiter of your heart and you’re totally puffed. Crystal clear now? Great.
Oh wait, just kidding, there was another intimidating part of the trail, the seep, or what locals call “The Steps”. A seep, I learned, is like a spring but much smaller. It’s a place where water or oil (water in this case) oozes slowly out of the ground. How cool is that? The seep involved a muddy not-quite-rut up through some roots slightly uphill. There were two steps. The day before, I came upon it unaware and got halfway up the right side of the split before I realized, yeah nope, probably not going to clear that. (Turns out my pal Zoe totally did though, whaaaat!) I decided my strategy was to ride up the middle, since the water was mostly just messing with my head, and otherwise, it was much ado about nothing. Race day, Bobby was hanging out there filming his incredible video and he said, “Right up the middle! That’s how the pros do it! You can do it! Yeah yeah!” Man, what a great encourager. Because of him, even though I had forgotten about it until I turned that corner, I did just that, rode it up the middle. Like a pro. Totes.
I passed a novice gentleman rider through another section of tight twisty trail, and considering they’d started a minute or so before, I felt pretty excited about that accomplishment. I called out that he was doing a great job and asked if I could pass when it was safe. We shared a laugh over it being harder than it looked and he made room for me. I made it to the second spot where I knew I’d have cheerleaders thanks to my photo buddy Zoe being awesome and personally showing David where to get the second set of images. At that point, I was feeling pretty happy that I wasn’t seeing anyone approaching from behind. Having one person between me and my girls was also a plus!
Once I hit the last fire road before the palmetto field, I heard Gene calling out, “Bikeminded!!! BikeMinded!!! Pleeeeeaaase let me passs!!!!” I knew he’d make it with no problem, so I just kept pedaling and sure enough he and Peter flew by me at about 25 mph and entered the last bit of single track. Of course, I was sure to cheer them on as they went by. I glanced back before going in myself and thought, “Well, this is it. I don’t see anyone right now, but I’m probably going to get passed in this next section by somebody.” I was really glad not to be in the way of those two guys as it is definitely one of the reasons I’d considered not racing, holding people up and the chance that someone would get upset.
Sure enough, I had two or three other groups of people come by to pass me, I was able to let them by within maybe five seconds, and I didn’t die then either. I had one person yell at me in frustration that I should just pull over and get off my bike to let them all pass because more were coming. I responded by saying I was racing too, to which I got a response of, “Not really….” I just hollered out, “That’s rude! Be nice!” Not too big of a deal, but it definitely doesn’t feel good to get belittled when you’re out there at your second race giving it your best shot. Later, he apologized for his attitude and for what he said, which I greatly appreciated. I can completely understand the feelings behind the words but the beliefs needed adjusting. The other people you’re passing on the trail are part of your race. It’s up to you to navigate kindly around other racers and to motivate them to let you pass safely by letting them know you want to get by. Don’t let your lack of technique in this area be the reason you lose your gap on your competitor. It will make you sad, just like David is here, because he got a flat tire and DNF after his CO2 inflater broke on the course. Look at those Mezcal sidewalls holdin’ up tho’!
Right after this little snafu, I finished the race in first place, about three minutes ahead of second place and well, I’ll just post the time sheet here. I couldn’t believe it. Neither apparently could Freddy, he was asking me if I was ok, and I’m thinking, “I feel like first place is ok… I mean that’s pretty good, right? Maybe I didn’t get first place. Crap, did someone pass me?” After which I began answering that “I think I won.” Turns out, Freddy thought I was in the other group of ladies. Honestly I’d have definitely finished dead last in that group, looking at the times. I had to go tell Ed Lis about my race, as he’s always gently encouraged me to give it a try and he was a great listener as usual to all my little details and was stoked about my excitement right there with me.
So many folks were really happy for me, already telling me to cat up, while I rolled my eyes and said, “Can I finish more than two races ever on my mountain bike first!?” All the love was there and I felt every bit of cheering that I leave out on the course returned to me when I stepped up on the podium.
The photos from this race were some of my favorites. The water splash section was just super fun and the other spot had some great depth of field and a couple folks even did little tricks for us! We really hope you enjoy them, check out the full FSC #6 gallery and sneak peek below!