Lots of riding in Winter Park this weekend with a cross country race on Saturday and a downhill race on Sunday, but as the title suggests, it was simply delightful.
We drove up late Friday afternoon and stayed at our friend Michelle's family's place in Frasier (just outside of Winter Park and the finish for Saturday's race). Upon arriving in Frasier, Chris and I were hungry so we decided to ride our bikes down to a local pizza place (always tasty). We cruised down the neighborhood and into town and then ate a lot of tasty pizza. After pizza we decided to stop by the Safeway for some Ben and Jerry's to take back as dessert for the weekend. We ran into an old college friend coming out of Safeway and chatted with him for a little while. We rode back up the big hill to the neighborhood and came across the best part of the weekend.
As we cruised around a corner, chatting about the weirdness of running into this friend, we both stopped. There, only 20 ft in front of us was a black bear crossing the road. This is about how the following conversation went:
Chris: That's a black bear.
Me (STUNNED): Yep. It is a black bear.
Me: Is it going to eat us?
Chris: Nope. Black bears don't eat people. We'll just give it its space and it'll continue on its way looking for food to eat.
Me (holding the Ben and Jerry's): But I have food in my hand. Maybe it'll eat me.
Chris: It doesn't want anything to do with that, it wants trash.
Me: Trash? Over Ben and Jerry's? Wow. Stupid bear.
Chris: Oh. I have a camera!
The black spot in the middle is our bear friend, now named Fernie. It was dusk, so a good picture was nearly impossible to catch. Plus, by the time we remembered the camera, he had scampered off into the trees.
Meanwhile the bear stopped, took a good look at us, then as Chris said, continued on its way. We watched it as it walked up to the house that we were standing next to, managed to quickly find the trash can, stand up to knock the trash can over, take the lid off, and then eat the trash. Haha. It was AWESOME! Chris is very calm now seeing bears, which is amazing. If I were alone, I would've totally freaked out.
After being amazed at the bear, we rode the rest of the 1/2 mile to the house and saw lots of deer and then a fox ran in front of us. I decided that Chris is some sort of nature-whisperer because the nature just seemed to flock to us. I wanted to see a moose, as they are known to hang around where this house is, but I didn't. Boo.
But the bear was pretty cool.
And very cute.
And it didn't eat me.
We hung out with our friends the rest of the night, giddy from our bear sighting, then had a nice sleep in preparation for Saturday's race.
Saturday -- Winter Park Race #3: Valley Point to Point ... aka Valley Point to River to Point
Saturday morning, Chris made our group a delicious breakfast and we headed over to the base of Winter Park to start getting ready. Chris took off on his warmup as the rest of us hung out and slowly got our stuff together. Nicolette and I headed out on a warmup shortly after and rolled up to the start with plenty of time to spare because we wanted to get in the front of the pack this time on the line.
The race started up the normal dirt road climb, which is always painful, but I put myself into a steady gear and it wasn't too bad. My legs were definitely tired from a good week of riding, but they fell into a groove and settled down fairly quickly. Most of the girls took off pretty quickly up the hill, which I've learned isn't anything to panic over because most of them tend to hit a wall part-way up and fall back. My personal style is to maintain the pace that I start at the entire way up, no spikes in speed at the beginning to have to recover from later.
The course wound through the usual downhill sections at Winter Park, which are fast but require some paying attention to lines as some tend to lead you into trees. I passed a few girls on the descent and was pretty much to myself by the time the course started to climb back up the mountain. I was climbing well and cleaning roots that usually knock me off my bike, so I felt pretty good. I could see Nicolette up ahead of me each time the course would allow for a good view ahead, so my goal was to wind my way up to her somehow. She's quick and strong though, so catching her was no easy feat. She was having some shifting problems, so eventually on the climb up D4, was I able to catch onto her wheel for long enough to have a quick chat. Unfortunately for me, next up is a pretty technical descent on WTB and she dropped me for good there. My descending has improved a million fold over the past year, but I am still more tentative than I probably need to be in a race.
At this point I yo-yo'd with another girl for a little while before dropping her on the next climb. Somewhere in there was a nice, long and fast dirt road descent where I was convinced I had gotten off course. I pedaled hard, but perhaps not as hard as I would have if I wasn't thinking I'd have to turn around at some point. I could see Nicolette and another girl up ahead at one point on the road but after turning a corner I couldn't see anyone. I convinced myself they had turned off onto a trail that I had missed. Eventually though, I saw the marshals and I was on the right track. Phew. There was no way I was climbing back up that sucker!
The rest of the course was very familiar as it wound through the woods leading to the Frasier finish. I remembered from last year how jarring the end of the trail is, so I wasn't looking so forward to that. I was pretty much by myself except for the occasional fast beginner men passing me. Some were really nice, others not so much, but either way I was content with how I was riding. Could I have gone faster? Perhaps. My first half was quick for me, the second half made me feel the effects of that effort. My goal going in, however, was to see how hard I could push before I cracked, so I was happy with how I was doing. Last year this course took me 2:09:33 and my major goal was to a) beat my time from last year and b) to beat the 2 hour mark. When I passed a course marshal at the 1:45 mark, he told me there were 4.5 miles to go. I mentally did the math and wasn't sure I could do the flatish, but jarring 4.5 miles in 15 minutes. That'd be really really fast for me. But I wanted the 2 hour mark, so I turned on the jets and was FLYING.
Then came the interesting part.
The morning of the race and the night before, Chris and the other veteran boys had warned everyone of a hidden bridge on the course that tends launch racers. There is a tight right turn, with a bush on the inside, and on the outside of the turn is the bridge over a stream/creek. People tend to come into the turn too hot, not knowing the bridge is there, then launch themselves off into the water.
Ok. So I already thought I'd passed that bridge. And when I passed it, I was proud of myself for not launching off it. I believe I even cheered.
Ok. So I was wrong.
There was a guy on my tail as I had the jets turned on trying to get my two hour mark. I knew I was maybe a mile from the finish. I came around a right turn, with a WAY overgrown bush on the inside, and...well...damn. There was a bridge. With a creek. And I was going way too fast to stop myself. I grabbed the brakes and slid partially to a stop, teetering on the edge of the bridge. The guy behind me slammed on his brakes too and I didn't want to swerve in front of him and take us both out. So there I went. Right into the drink. I'd slowed down enough to know I was going to fall the three feet into the creek on my left side, and I thought long enough not to put out my wrist, elbow, or foot to break my fall. I took the fall directly on my left shoulder and butt. The nice guy paused long enough to say "WOHOA! DO I STOP?" when I yelled that I was fine, he kept trucking. I pulled myself out of the water (and yes, the cold water DID feel really good after being so hot), put my bike back on the bridge, got myself back on, and kept going. I looked down on the GPS and my race clock was at 1:58. Dang. After the fall I was soaking wet and really really frustrated (and my bike was shifting on its own), but I cranked it back up and pushed as hard as possible to get to the line. I convinced myself that there was a girl behind me and I muttered to myself (yes, out loud), that if a girl passed me because I fell off the f***ing bridge, I was going to be ticked. I got some involuntary air off a bump, squeeled a little, then headed to the finish.
I missed my 2 hour goal. That minute was absolutely soaked up in the crash, which was stupid, so I wasn't terribly pleased. On top of that, my shoulder hurt. When Chris came to greet me at the end I could help but throw my bike into a tree and cry. Silly girl. He immediately checked my collar bone and surrounding bone structures, but when I told him it wasn't sharp pain, just dead muscle pain, we knew I'd be fine. I think my ego was bruised more than anything.
We waited for the rest of our group to come through the finish and after downing some advil we rode the 10ish miles back to Winter Park. My shoulder hurt like heck riding back, but as the advil kicked in it was doing better. Turns out Chris got 3rd place in his Expert group! I was so proud of him and excited to see that he'd done so well. It's always fun to watch him on a rigid single speed beat out a bunch of full suspensioned expert gearies. He never stops amazing me. Nicolette ended up with 3rd, less than three minutes ahead of me. I was in 4th. Again. It had been a good race, and in retrospect, a lot of fun. I am once again very happy to be within minutes of Nicolette. That's a huge improvement for me... and, if I would've stayed in beginner, I would've had first place by 13 minutes. So that made me feel good too.
We enjoyed some lunch/dinner in Winter Park before heading back and enjoying a leisurely evening at the house in Frasier... which included another dinner and lots of Ben and Jerrys.
Sunday -- Winter Park Race #4: Super Downhill... aka Super D-elightful
Sunday morning brought some very sore moments in the Frasier house. Melissa had crashed pretty hard on Saturday and was hobbling around pretty good. My shoulder was feeling less than stellar, as was the bruise/welt on my butt. The rest of the gang was sore enough from the 19 mile race the day before, but some wonderful breakfast burritos got all of our spirits up and we were totally psyched for the gnarly downhill race... yo.
This race is new to the Winter Park series this year. It cost an extra $20, but does factor into the overall series standing. A lot of people chose not to do this race. But in the end, they missed out on a great time. We planned on pre-riding the course all together the morning of the race, but because we were a bit pokey getting out of the house in the morning, Chris had to jet to do his pre-ride since his start time was more than an hour earlier than mine. The rest of us took the lift up (after a gut-busting hillarious moment of Nicolette and I trying to load our bikes onto the full-speeding lift for the first time) and rode the 5.5 mile course together. The course workers got a kick out of our team riding together, as nearly everyone made a comment about us and our squeeky toys.
The pre-ride was not fun. Not fun really at all. My quads burned almost immediately as I stood to descend, and my shoulder hurt with every bump. Keep in mind that this is a pretty technical 5.5 mile descent down the Winter Park ski hill. I often thought about Chris riding this on his rigid bike, as my fully suspension Fuel wasn't even enough to make it feel nice. When we got to the bottom we sat and relaxed and waited to watch Chris finish his race. We got to the bottom about has he probably started, so he would be down in 20ish minutes. We watched the pros come flying into the finish and marveled at how fast they could take the hill. Not long after, Chris came down, looking a little slower than I expected, but he didn't have any blood or evidence of a crash, so I was happy. He said he pretty much cruised down, told me of a few spots to watch out for, and sent us on our way up the lift again (this time they slowed it down so it wasn't nearly as funny to watch). We sat at the top and watched a few groups do their le mans style start (running to your bike and then riding).
Pretty soon it was just us girls up at the top. They started the beginner and sport women together, and between our two groups there were only 11 riders. In typical and wonderful girl fashion, we chatted and giggled and had a great time. We all figured out how old everyone was, and soon realized that most of us didn't have to compete against anyone else to podium in their age-group due to the lack of people. Nicolette, Melissa, and I were the only girls in our 20s and Melissa was riding beginner. She automatically won that class. Nicolette and I were the only ones in our age group in sport, so we automatically came in 1st and 2nd. The rest were older and got their positions worked out for the most part. And we still had 10 minutes before the start.
After the not so super fun pre-ride, it was great knowing I was going to podium and get some good series points no matter what happened. There wasn't the pressure there to ride dangerously fast, although I still wanted to have a good time. On the course, I went fast. Much faster than the pre-ride, so I think that made the course feel more smooth. Also, with all of the other classes having gone before us, they probably smoothed it out a bit too. The race itself was SO MUCH FUN!!!! I giggled the whole way down. I couldn't believe how fun it was. The technical obstacles made it interesting and the few uphills provided a good respite for my burning quads. The course seemed to fly by and in 30 minutes I was down at the finish, and most importantly, I was in one piece. No crashes for me.
At the end, Chris told me he happened to be the first on the scene of a girl knocking herself unconscious, and that was why he rode pretty tentatively. He was worried about her, and by proxy worried about me, so he took it pretty easy. He knew if he told me that before I raced I would be a nervous wreck, so he saved that one for after.
Again, I was less than three minutes behind Nicolette. Again, she is a much better and experienced descender than me, so I was pleased. Plus, we'd get to stand 1-2 on the podium together which was really fun. Overall, our team seriously cleaned up on Sunday. Chris got 3rd, Nicolette got 1st, I got 2nd, Melissa got 1st, and Scott got 2nd. Erik had an awesome time but a huge class, but he got us some good team points anyway.
Less than 20 girls raced the downhill, so I feel pretty happy that I was one of a select few who had the guts to try it. It was a blast and well worth the extra $20 to race it. I now have a silver medal to add to the trophy shelf. While I won it by process of elimination, I feel I totally deserved it for even participating at all. If given the choice, even a year ago, to ride a 5.5 mile technical downhill -- in a race no less -- I would've laughed and not given it a shot. The girls we raced with were so fun and it was refreshing to be with a group of girls out simply for a good time.
After eating in winter park we headed home and had a great night. We treated ourselves to a late dinner of biscuits with honey and wine.
Our wine from last night. Bought in honor of our bear friend, Fernie.
Tonight we will be making a super deluxe cheese fondue... with more wine. My shoulder is still sore, but no major damage done. I'm sure I jammed it good and tweeked some muscles. Nothing terrible, just naggingly annoying.
Our friend Michelle played photographer this weekend and got some awesome shots of the races. When she passes those along I will post them.
We are hoping to climb Huron Peak on Wednesday as our last 14er before Chris heads out on the Colorado Trail Race. Should be another fun week of perpetual Saturdays for the Pleskos.