Into The Dirt : Xterra Granite Bay

April 1, 2013

Bumping down a rocky trail, fluttering my brakes, around a corner and wisping past the little mustard flowers growing along the trail, I came upon a big drop, nearly concealed with thick redwood roots. I brought the bike to an abrupt stop and gulped loudly enough that surely the whole forest could hear me.

Aloud: “You’re going off that, Lentine, you ARE. You’re going to walk your bike back up that hill, pick a line, and commit so shut up about it.”

These are the types of conversations I’ve been having with myself this past month. Hilarious, maybe, but true.

These past years I’ve grown to be a cyclist on the road; the space I’m in while riding my bike in places that have already been conquered by wheels has been the place where I can spin and process through all the things in my life, in my very busy head. Connected to the seat, the machine beneath my body becomes a part of my being, a means of me playing out my every emotion on the road. A vehicle for me to expend my strength, my desire. As my wheels roll, I kick up tiny pieces of asphalt from behind my back wheel, and along with those tiny pieces of earth go tiny bits of life – stress, worry, wonderings – that get released into the ether, the space behind me as well. Sometimes, there are big hills to climb. The less I think of the hill, and continue to focus on the steady turning of the crank, the faster the obstacle passes. Cycling on the road for me has been more about getting from place to place, about the journey between moments, than it has been about being in the moment.

So, when I stand at the top of something big, and rocky, and scary – literally a gaping hole in the earth that threatens to swallow me (or bruise me) while on two wheels – I’m startled. This obstacle requires me to stare it directly in the face, and commit – precisely –  a plan to dominate it. It’s about so much more than merely digging deep into the  power stores of my legs and lungs; I must think powerfully too, arriving at that obstacle with  a boatload more confidence than I have ever had.

A colleague and I were talking about bikes and life and the metaphor therein  today.  He’s quite an accomplished all mountain racer feels disconnected when he’s on the road.  A few years back, he was enjoying one of our favorite Bay Area back pocket roadie rides when he was suddenly struck by a driver from behind,  thrown from his bike, and left for dead. Needless to say, he has since chosen his road rides very carefully. While the bike and the paved terrain doesn’t challenge him, he notices that he’s petrified of all the elements out of his control; he could fall victim to the powers that be at any given moment on the road. Whereas, on a mountain bike, he is the master of his own destiny:

The trees aren’t out to get him.

The rocks aren’t going to move.

He just has to choose his path – commit to it, embrace and accept the consequences (and rewards) of the line he has chosen.

I thought about him often as I tackled my first off-road triathlon this past weekend – Xterra Granite Bay here in California. It was a beautiful spring day in Northern California; perfect for a little swim/bike/run.

 

Arriving in the morning the crowd was laid back, the transition area relaxed. Never have I walked to a start line so calm. The gun went off and our mass start converged on the challenge ahead; a quick 800m swim in the 56-degree waters of Folsom Lake, a 16-mile mildly technical bike course on the single-track within the park, and a hilly 4-mile run under through the forest and across the beach. The swim numbed my hands and feet, as expected. The run reminded me that running hill after hill after hill in Northern California will always pay off. But never have I been so challenged on a bike course. Though the course was not considered “technical” there were plenty of obstacles to keep us riders occupied and on our toes; sand pits, mud pits, rock gardens, tricky power climbs and bouldered descents and drops plus plenty of swoopy single-track to enjoy.

 As I progressed through the morning on the course, my brain kept trying to slip into “triathlon” mode; the one where I put my brain on auto-pilot, turn off all pain receptors and go. But tree roots and rock gardens don’t respond well to being ignored — not even with 29er wheels — so these slips didn’t last long. Just a few miles in, I was surprised to find that my brain was just as fatigued as my legs, learning each obstacle literally as my bike arrived at it.  One of my pedals stopped clipping out somewhere around mile 8 of a 16 mile course, requiring me to either ride without the clip, twist my ankle in toward the frame to rip my cleat out, or simply fall over when I picked the wrong line (though, frankly, next time I hope to choose more wisely, know the course better, and not worry about my ability to dab out there.) I made my share of novice mistakes — everything moved so fast, so furiously. Despite all the bruises, scrapes and “souvenirs” from the ride, I finished beaming, content with my early season swim/run performance, and with a healthy reminder that I have plenty to learn on the bike, like learning to ride all over again.

There will always be the pursuit of being the best that I can be. Growing and progressing in multisport have always kept things fun and fresh – the harder I train, the more I focus, the more effortlessly I swim, the more powerfully I ride, the more efficiently I run. In times past, I walk away from races proud of performance, and determined to be FASTER. This time, I walked away wanting to be faster, sure, but more than anything, I want to be more BRAVE.

And so, when I find myself standing at the top of that hill these days, I check my line, clip my pedal, push my body into an attack and let her rip, eyes open and looking for the next obstacle. My bike has taken me to so many fabulous places these few years, with new distances and vistas becoming attainable all the time. But suddenly, it seems that a whole new world is waiting for me and I am so excited to kick open the door, release the brakes, let the bike roll where it was built to roll, and roll right along with it.

A couple of shout-outs, first to Derek for the great shots of the day and just for always being there, proud of whatever I pour out on the course. And second, a big high-five, fist bump and holler out to my friend and teammate – Kara LaPoint – who was our 2nd place female finisher on Saturday, and is sure to be a contender in the upcoming Xterra West Championships in Nevada in a couple of weeks. I spoke with her just weeks before her début at the Xterra World Championships last fall and it was the fire in Kara’s eyes as she described off-road triathlon that sold me on this new discipline of racing. Her passion, grace and flexibility — leaping from solid races on the road, to accomplished races in the dirt — confirmed for me that the itch I had for riding in the dirt was worth scratching; the goal I wanted next in my multisport career was the adventure, challenge and diversity of racing on the trail. Thanks for the inspiration, Kara — Go LUNA GO! 

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