Throughout the month of December and now into January, we’d like to share some of the Salsa Crew's and our sponsored riders' favorite moments from 2015. By all accounts, it was a great year!
Skirts In The Dirt
I remember the Skirts in the Dirt start line as if it were yesterday. Everyone was lined up on the Cannonsburg ski hill waiting for the promoter to say start the race. While the racers were waiting, they chatted nervously about the course. One girl said to her friend, “I heard it’s hilly,” while another girl remarked, “It will probably be hard.”
Dark clouds had been rolling in all day–an ominous sign of what was to come. “Five minutes until the start!” said the promoter. Everyone around me looked at each other nervously.
I was nervous as well–probably more nervous about this race than any other race that I ever had competed in, and that includes all national and world championships. I was shaking-in-my-cycling-shoes, one-second-away-from-puking nervous, but for obvious reasons, I couldn’t let it show. A lot of the girls around me were Grand Rapids Dirt Dawgs, and I was one of the coaches. I had to be the calm, confident one.
Proud Dirt Dawgs after a first race–photo courtesy of Patrick Helsel ...
Just then I felt a raindrop, then another and another. My nervousness level went up a few more notches. “Everyone, listen to me,” I shouted. “There is a wet bridge at the bottom of the hill. We have to ride over it slowly, because it will be slippery. Will you girls remember that?” I saw a lot of helmets (most at my waist level) nod their heads in acknowledgement. Just then the promoter shouted, “Go!”
We were off! Instantly all the girls around me started pedaling furiously, their legs little pistons going up and down 100-plus pedal strokes a minute. “The bridge–remember the bridge!” I shouted after them. But there was no way that they could hear me shouting over the cheers and cowbells. I saw one little girl wave to her family while she rode by. I watched in awe as every single girl slowed down before the bridge and rode across it in a straight line, just as we had been teaching them. Phew.
A few more minutes of pedaling, and we were in the singletrack. That’s when I heard the first rumble of thunder. The light rain that had been falling turned up a few notches into a steady pour. “Oh my gosh,” I thought to myself. “This is really bad.”
Here’s a little background information about the race: Skirts in the Dirt is a women’s-only mountain bike race with the goal of encouraging more females to try racing. The Never Ever Category (the one I was sweeping) is a race category for females who are racing for the very first time. We had a lot of girls from the Grand Rapids Dirt Dawgs team (that I help coach) racing for the first time, and we had been practicing starts for the past couple of weeks. I wanted the girls to have fun racing their bikes and was slightly dismayed about the pouring rain.
I held my breath and watched the girls in front of me. Then I heard it– a small giggle! Then another one. “This is SO FUN,” shouted one of the girls. “It’s like we are riding in a river,” shouted another.
Riding sweep on one of the most nerve-racking events of her storied career–photo courtesy of Karen Brower ...
From that moment on, all worries slipped away, and I watched proudly as the girls navigated slippery roots, puddles, and climbs. They cheered for each other and helped each other out with dropped chains and lost number plates, and called out “on your left” like pros when they were passing. I mentally thanked the other coaches a million times over for showing up week after week on their own time to set the Dirt Dawgs up for success. Words will never be able to describe how thankful I was in that moment.
About halfway through the race, some of the girls started to get tired, and conditions became a little more slippery. However their spirit and sense of adventure never waned. I listened to them talk as they pedaled through the singletrack, and conversations ranged from bikes to families to school and everything in between. They were embracing the adventure and laughing with glee as they rode through the puddles. I could totally relate.
Before I knew it, we were at the last big climb and could hear the announcer calling out names as people cheered from the other side of the ski hill. The hill was steep, and I watched the girls pedal as hard as they could to clear it to the other side. Halfway up we decided to walk to the top, but everyone jumped back on their bikes and rode down to the finish line with huge smiles on their faces.
That moment of sheer accomplishment–photo courtesy of Aimee Whitmer ...
I remember bits and pieces from my first race, but most of it was a blur. Being able to ride along with some of the Dirt Dawgs for their first race–and experience the adventure and fun through their eyes–was a total gift. It was by far one of my favorite moments ever on a bike.
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These are a few of my favorite things: Mountain biking, good coffee, good food, and hanging out with my husband, family and adopted greyhound. It really doesn't take much to make me happy. Of course, winning a race every now and then is good too! [url=http://]http://[/url]