Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Anything Can Happen...And It Did!!!

The folks at the Kona 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo (OP) put on an incredible event! If you’ve ever even thought about mountain bike racing, this is a must! It was a full on “fat tire town” in the middle of the Arizona desert. Where like minded mountain bike masochists gathered to race, ride, drink, and have fun, while “leaving no trace” on the land. They dedicated the event to Marla Streb and it was so great to meet her and hear her inspiring words.

I am absolutely ecstatic to have finished 2nd Solo Female in a race with so many exceptional women riders. Because it was only my second solo race, I had lots of help from my coach Lynda Wallenfels and my great friend and Sho-Air teammate “Super” Mario Correa. Lynda won the Solo Female category last year and she was back to defend her title. She got me to sign up for the race and she physically and mentally prepared me for it. She knew exactly what I needed to do to be ready and then she knew exactly how much I would be able to do in the end. I can’t thank her enough for the encouragement and support. Lynda also coaches Super Mario so I found it very valuable to discuss my plans with him. He knew my preparation, he knew what Lynda expected, and he’s been there and done it many times himself. He gave me a shortcut to success. We thoroughly discussed my plan and came up with a strategy. I completed Lynda’s “Plan of Attack” form and submitted it to her for review. When it was agreed upon, I shared it with my Sho-Air teammate and support guy Josh Smith. And there it was--my perfect race--on paper at least.

Another friend and Sho-Air teammate Fuzzy John Mylne was in Tucson early and was able to secure us a prime pit location just off the trail. He and his singlespeed team “No Shift Sherlock” quickly became our friends and neighbors. Lynda, her mechanic extraordinaire Andy, and solo riders Dave Harris and Adam Lisonbee also moved into the neighborhood. We all shared the pit, meals, New Belgium beer, highs, lows, and good times over the weekend.

I ran into some familiar faces on my walk out to the Le Mans start. Some I knew from other races. Some of them knew me…well, okay, they thought I was Monique Sawiki, but hey, they were patting me on the back and encouraging me, so I gracefully accepted. It's always hard to see the look of disappointment when I tell them I’m not Monique.

The gun sounded and the 400 yard jog began. I took my time, grabbed the Black Widow from Josh, avoided the chaos, and began to execute the plan. I felt excellent for the first 8 hours! The relatively flat course, the singletrack, and the added challenge of dodging cactus kept it interesting. Super Mario had once spoken to me about feeling the “flow” when racing. Back then I didn’t quite get it. But at OP, I finally did! During my sixth lap, I was “flowing” down the Corral Trail. I felt like I could ride forever! Of course, once I hit the Junebug Trail (uphill), I remembered that I still had 16 hours to go!

With the night came another interesting challenge. During laps eight, nine, and ten I was having trouble seeing out of my right eye. I thought my contact was dirty so I continually rinsed it out and even took time to properly wash my hands and change both of them. Turned out it wasn’t my contacts; I was going blind! Well, at least that’s what I thought for a moment. Things that immediately crossed my mind:

1) My body’s finally had enough torture and it retaliating!
2) That’s it, I’m done! No more endurance races for me!
3) Will my sponsor pay for laser eye surgery so I can keep racing?

As Lynda was resting in the RV, I quietly panicked to Josh. Luckily Lynda heard me and informed me that I was not going blind. I had “dry, dusty eye” and just had to rinse it out and shut my eyes for 5 minutes. So at every pit for the rest of the race I had to sit, rinse and shut. The eye would clear up for about the first 15 minutes of the lap, but then I’d have to continue with impaired vision. I thought about duct taping the right eye shut and just using the left, and although the thought of being known as the psycho pirate MTB lady was alluring, I decided that might not be the best idea. So I just kept riding. It finally cleared up just in time for the drive home.

I especially enjoyed chatting with other riders. I struck up some nice conversations with few. I only wished I could recognize them apart from their jerseys or tattoos. There was “Sock Guy,” Singlespeed light blue girl, the prosthetic arm guy (kudos to you!), and “F U” guy. I met my pit neighbor Adam on the trail during our ninth lap and we did the next few early A.M. laps together. It was nice to have someone to talk to and we worked together to pass the time and knock off the laps.

I was always happy to reach the final down hill and coast into my pit. Josh and Andy were like my very own Nascar crew. As soon as I would arrive they swarmed me and my bike so fast. Josh had a HUGE responsibility to support both Lynda and me in the pit. And I’ll admit that sometimes the “Princesa” can be a tiiiiiiiny bit demanding during a race so needless to say I owe Josh big for putting up with me and keeping me moving. He always had Hammer products, Dermatone, salty soup, veggie pizza, Coca-cola, DMS, contact solution, and words of encouragement ready for me. Andy wrenched for Lynda, Fuzzy, Dave, and me. He was absolutely incredible and thanks to him the Black Widow rode flawlessly.

Unfortunately Lynda, who was crushing the field, had an accident half way through the race and had to stop riding. She broke both her collarbones and her hand. But she stayed there and continued to coach me to the end.

FOCUS ended up being the theme of my race. I had a superb plan and all I had to do was execute it to make the race a success. And with the help of my sponsors Sho-Air & Rock n Road Cyclery, my support Josh, mechanic Andy, and the encouragement of Fuzzy and my friends in the pit, I focused and set out to do my best. My goal was 14 laps. I got 14 done in just under 24 hours so I set out for a “personal victory” lap A.K.A. “Damn I have to do another” lap. Since there was no time limit, I took it easy, completed the 15th lap, and made it back just in time to receive my 2nd place award.

I'd like to conratulate first place Sarah Kaufmann, third place Mary Collier, fourth Christi Hall, fifth Wendy Skean, and all the other women that participated. It was the largest ladies field I've seen!

Click here for race results.


douglas said...

awesome job!

The German said...

Well done lass !

Adam Lisonbee said...

Great race Bernice! It really was a fun weekend.

Get recovered up for Spain!

Matt said...

Congrats! That is a REALLY impressive showing and it looks like your hard work has paid off.

Lucas said...

Way to go! It was great to meet you at Southridge today! Hopefully Josh made it home OK! Keep up the amazing work my friend! Maybe I will see you guys next Saturday.

chrissy said...

hey bernice! CONGRATULATIONS! Looks like you kicked butt. way to go! hope to see you around soon...keep up the good work ;-)
ride & smile,

Garth said...

Great job, Bernice! I'm so proud of you! But then again, I expected a podium. ;-) Good luck in Spain!

Sarah K said...

Thanks Bernice. Way to go out there. Good luck!

chris said...

Nice work out there!!

Are you coming back to AZ for the Whiskey?

aka: the "FU guy"