Windham Mountain treated me fairly. I have to at least say that. Mountain biking for the first time on the eastern seaboard taught me a few things, but most importantly? Never let your guard down. I also learned a thing or two about riding in real mud, avoiding turkey platter-sized slate tablets that fly through the air and how to look AWAY from the trees. All of this stuff is grand and beautiful, yes, but the best part of my race weekend spent in the Catskill Mountains was the people... Oh, the people. The warm, welcoming, brutally honest and incredibly funny people of the East. From my host who was gracious (even at 4 am while picking me up from JFK) and his lovely friends and race team to the event organizer Dan, the other pit teams and my fellow female competitors, I was (and still am) absolutely taken aback by the genuine warmth and affection. Those folks somehow managed to make riding in the greasy, challenging mud such an enjoyable experience that I'm considering flying back out there just to do it all over again in a few weeks!
Driving back to the city, post-rainstorm.
I'm kind of a mess, however. My laundry has yet to be washed and Lola (my downhill bike) is still enroute. My shoulder continues to sit unattended and although the facial bruising has slowly dissipated, I have a gut feeling that I'll be babying the injuries from my latest fall for a while. But... My heart? She's doing just fine. New faces, new courses, new challenges and new news all bring amazing joy to my heart as new routes to my dreams open up (I can't tell you about the news until Monday though; stay with me!). There are always downs to match the ups, but that's why the ups are so darn 'up'. We all have rough days when everything has gone to absolute shit and the fridge is empty, we're tired and the tunnel seems to have no light at the end. My body will heal, my bike will arrive, the skies will clear and the laundry will end up on my floor in a 'clean' pile, as usual.
This is probably the weirdest, most-fragmented post I've ever written. Sorry.
But let's talk about what happened in Windham, sometime between my saying goodbye to my Grandfather Wednesday night and meeting the angels who would safely deliver my broken self home (Thank god for Delta Airlines and their flight attendants -- Ice, snacks, hugs and support go a long, long way!). I arrived at JFK early Friday morning/late Thursday night to a pajama-clad Jarad, whom I drug out of bed at 3 am, then headed back into Brooklyn to catch a few hours of shut eye before meeting Petey, the other half of MadKats Productions, around 9 am. The three of us (read: Jarad and Petey) then loaded the truck to the gills with filmmaking and bike gear before embarking on the drive north, but not before stopping to wait for fresh Sammy Sticks to come out of the oven at Sammy's in Scarsdale.
Sammy Sticks, in all their glory. The everything bagel that's not actually a bagel. Oh, hell.
What is a Sammy Stick? Only the singularly best thing to ever come from a stoned kid who forgot to twist bagel dough into a circle and instead baked delicious, NY-style bagel dough into (you guessed it!) STICKS. Sticks, that is, that are slathered with full-fat cream cheese and cut in half that, when you bite into them, spew melty cream cheese perfection everywhere. I may have eaten more than one, but I'll never tell. Onward!
So. We drive. And drive. Then we drive some more. Past Fishkill, where I'd visited for the first time, nearly two years earlier. Past Poughkeepsie and the Hudson Valley, where the great American Industrial Revolution took place. Past miles and miles of green, lush, are-we-there-yet forests. And then we passed some more forests, until we burst out into a valley with winding roads, a teeny, tiny church and a Main Street snatched right out of a Mark Twain novel. We'd reached Windham, NY.*
Jarad had kindly helped me (read: all by himself) put Lola back together that morning, so we rolled into the lot at the resort and, after a bit of finagling, snagged ourselves some room for a pit where we immediately began claiming space and setting up tents and bikes with the help of our ever-informative Parking Guy. He'll be called that for the rest of all eternity, hopefully... The man was one of the many highlights of the weekend. #vancoooooooooopah
Lola, Friday morning. In pieces, in a loaned bike case (thank you, Christine!!!).
Lola, Friday evening. In the pits with a number plate. What a difference a day makes!
(Thank you, Jarad!!!)
Shortly thereafter, A.J. rolled up with the trailer, Isaac and Jordan appeared out of thin air and it was time for one of the funniest course walks of my short career. No, I'm not kidding. Between mud-filled flip flops, a running comedic commentary and mouthfuls of bugs, I'm still a bit shocked that any of us actually previewed the course. It was an important pre-race preparation though, and one that served as both a reality check and excitement boost for what would come.
Saturday's practice was exhausting and, at times, a painful reminder of how far I have yet to grow. I sometimes forget there are places I haven't ridden and things I have yet to experience, only to be humbled by varying terrain and conditions. It's a very good thing, and always refreshing, this new understanding... An awareness of one's insignificance, if you will. But riding bikes is always fun (always!) and riding with two guys that can kick my ass every day of the week and twice on Sunday made it even more so. Splashing through mud puddles, maneuvering slick rocks, overcoming fears and feeling the accomplishment of managing unfamiliar terrain all held magic for me... Nearly every run was finished with a smile and some serious arm pump! After practice, it was time for seeding runs (where I seeded dead-middle at 5th after dislocating my hip at the bottom), then bike washing, fueling my tired body and waiting for the stars to come out amidst great company.
If Mr. Newth doesn't achieve imminent success as a racer, maybe rock-throwing can be a backup?
A slick, grassy first turn led into rocky, rowdy, hold-on-for-your-life tree sections. And that was just the top.
Sunday dawned sunny, but gave way to cloudy skies that threatened rain and air that was both humid and electric... While previous days had meant lighthearted banter between riders, teams, directors and supporters, that morning the pits were filled with the sights and sounds of racers going for the win. Last minute practice runs mixed with trips in for small adjustments, tire changing and (always) bike cleaning; I wolfed down some breakfast and headed for the lift to get my own pre-race ride in. The first lap was touchy and jumpy as track conditions had changed overnight: what had been dry Saturday was dripping in mud and slick from dew and humidity while wet, slow areas picked up speed and dimension as the ground dried. After a slight suspension adjustment, I jumped back on the lift and gave myself a slight talking-to:
"You have this. Trust your abilities. You've worked hard. You have a great bike. The bike will go where your eyes go. Chin up, eyes forward."
Confidence. Quiet. Excitement. Fire. Trust. Faith. Power.
It was go time for me. One last run, then race time.
So in I dropped. Perfectly. Pedal. Rotate. Outside foot down. Round this turn. Over the slick roots, the jagged rocks. Arms pumping, legs keeping the bike under me, eyes glued to the trail in front of me. Launch off of this rock, roll that one. Link this turn. Moto-slide that one. Push the tail around. Pedal. Harder. Next turn. Eyes up. Breathe. Arms roll. Pump through this. Push through that one. Pedal again. Splash. Perfect. Smile...
And then down I went.
In a split second through a dip I had managed all weekend. One millimeter too far to the right and it was front wheel into a rock garden, and Lola had too much rolling speed to pull back out. I had too much velocity to avoid rocks that don't move... Shoulder slamming, body sliding, head slamming into the ground and my helmet meeting a rock with a loud 'CRACK!'. That was it.
Like a drunk rag doll, I slid, then stopped.
Laying on my back on the ground, feeling the sound erupt from my throat as I yelled unintelligibly. Then again, louder as I screamed, "My head! Holy f*ck! My head!"
And the fog cleared. I was okay. My head was intact. As someone called my name, another someone helped me pull off my helmet, away from my rapidly swelling face. Told me to lay still. But then it hit me -- the arm, limp and lifeless underneath me... It was my own. My shoulder was out. "Help me sit up. I'm fine. Thank you. Sorry." And then the tears came, hot and salty, pouring down my cheeks. If my head wouldn't keep me out of the race in just hours, my shoulder would. Crying silently in between words now as I explained what happened to the patrollers and concerned onlookers, I realized I wouldn't be riding again. I think I knew it the second my head fell against those stones... I think I felt it when Lola began to slide. I wonder if I gave up halfway through the slide, or whether I went soft and hoped the fall would be kind. Either way, I'll never know. But I'll constantly question everything I recall and review every split second before and during the wreck, wondering how I could have moved, looked, ridden, felt differently to avoid it. It's part of why I compete, that critical thinking... It's that quest to find what went wrong and how I can change it next time.
The tears kept coming, into the truck and down the mountain, towards the patrol station. But I was smiling, dammit. I knew even in that excruciating moment of pain that what my reaction was would dictate how I saw the entire weekend. So I laughed and told the patroller Pat, "It was the cleanest run of the weekend. I had that track." Smile. Tears. Frustration. Acceptance.
AJ and Jordy came to retrieve me at first aid, one pushing my bike and the other carrying my gear that had slowly been peeled away, piece by piece. They talked me through the walk back to the pits, then AJ bagged up ice while Jordan looked over my bike and we talked. I told them I was going to race, and they smiled. We all knew I couldn't ride. And then Isaac was back, prepping for his race run, and was off. Then it was Jordan's turn to wipe his bike down, climb into uniform and leave as the storm settled in and all pros were called to the lift... But not this one. Not this time. Heartbroken, I slid into a rain jacket and headed for the finish line with AJ to watch the finals. Isaac soon flew past to our screams and calls, sending the bottom kicker into a very respectable 4th place in Junior Expert class. Then it was the Pro Women, one after another, chasing each other for that top spot and trying to outrun the incoming rain.
God, they looked good. So fast.
The men followed through at lightning speeds, rocketing out of the woods and over that jump as the times dropped lower and lower. Jordan railed through the turns and into the finish line (and 7th) just as the skies opened and the rain began hammering down.
It was over so quickly.
Never have I yelled so hard or been so proud of my fellow riders...
Thank you, Windham. Thank you all.
To Anne, Becky, Alli and the other girls: You all are beautiful, incredible creatures that inspired me and pushed me towards progression and fun. Every single one of you gave what you had and that is exactly what mountain biking needs:
passionate, powerful ladies who aren't afraid of embracing the madness of our sport.
Thank you so much. xo
Two of the amazing humans I spent the weekend with: Jarad (left) and Jordan (right).
So we packed up and were nearly the last crew out of the lot as another storm rolled in... Hit the city late that evening, and then into bed. Bikes back into boxes the next morning and then it was JFK - SLC and avoiding suspicious looks from concerned strangers at the woman with the black eye who was traveling alone. It was an interesting cultural experiment, that's for sure!
I arrived home to a hyper-concerned BV, who took me to the ER as soon as I walked in the door, and although not much (read: anything at all) was done about my shoulder, I sure did get a lot of morphine and HEY! My back isn't broken... ?!?! Yeah. Something like that. It wasn't the most productive 10 hours of my life, but that's why I have health insurance, right? Ha! After a night spent on a backboard and having everyone in the emergency department ignore my claims of 'no, my back really wasn't broken but hey, I'd appreciate it if you looked at my shoulder blade that's sticking out 3 inches off of my back', I decided enough was enough. I politely said thank you (or at least I think that's what I muttered), asked to have my IV removed and left with the assistance of my ever-helpful roommate and best friend. It was a wobbly exit, but an exit nonetheless.
As of this afternoon, I have a shoulder appointment with a well-known orthopedist next week, so everyone keep your fingers crossed that I can be fixed! If not, I'll be writing a lot more awful blog posts... Kidding. Sort of. I hope your 4th was sparkly and independent and amazing. Best wishes, y'all.