Sea Otter Gran Fondo 2013

It has taken me a couple of days for my answer to the question “how was Sea Otter? How was the Gran Fondo?” to shift from one that includes the story of the crash, to one that simply states – it was wonderful.

I suppose that the former was a natural response – being that it was the first time I had ever crashed (really – ever), and being that it seems that I so narrowly escaped a truly catastrophic set of injuries. Things are as they are, but part of me really wishes that my response to the question would have always been to the point: it was a pleasure to ride out there, in that company, on that day, for that occasion, and everything that unfolded on the course will remain imprinted on my memory as favorable.

 The weekend began as a girls + bikes getaway with two of my best ladies. I can’t imagine more enjoyable company, or a more excellent reason to skip town than to get out and challenge ourselves on two wheels as part of one of the biggest bicycle festivals in the country.

Come Saturday morning, as the sun came up over the starting line, all of the riders aligned – buzzing – for a fun day of big hills, big miles and lots of fun. Such a delightful sight — hundreds of folks gathering at first light to ride their bicycles into the day. 

Pushing through the morning fog with the front pack, Elle, Jac and I chatted along, spun our wheels, laughed, and remained always in sight – we were the only girls around for miles and it felt good to be there and so our jokes (and probably our legs) were acknowledged even more loudly than we understand. There is (almost) nothing I enjoy more than spinning with fearless girlfriends whom aren’t afraid to push themselves, and do so gracefully. 

When the pack broke, I found myself taking inventory rather than calculating the cost benefit of pushing now to remain with the lead group. In retrospect, I should have accelerated – and taken the pain of the push, as well as the risk of struggle – instead of being cautious. I am all about learning lessons on the bike these days and this was just one of them. Being realistic is the most traveled pathway to mediocrity. I was reminded on this ride that there is something awesome about throwing expectations out the window in order to be great.

During those 30 miles or so I spent chasing the pack I balanced somewhere between two realities; the one where I continued to push as hard as I could to merely taste the pace of the leaders, in my field of vision all along, and the one where it was entirely possible that I would never catch their wheels, and that I would be riding the remainder of the Fondo alone and under my own power. As I waffled between these two mindsets, I also waffled between being angry for letting the pack slip, and dismayed that I had been left behind. Between the desert like fields of the south side of the Cahoon Summit, and the lupine fields that spread over the hills as we started the climb, I remembered that being confident in my own power was all I would need to get the job done….and that was all I would have needed to stay with the pack in the first place. 

Mile 80. The rider ahead of me in our pack took a swig from a waterbottle and took his eyes off the road. The pothole gobbled his front wheel, and his fall gobbled my momentum. I rolled, and slid, and once I landed opened my eyes and saw blood dripping down his face. After sitting for a few shocked moments in the middle of the road, I was helped to my feet and to sit on a stone wall off the road.  I was poked and prodded by the riders around me, checked for lacerations and points of injury, as well as the tell tale dialated pupils. Clairvoyance rolled over me and in that instant, I knew that I would be ok for I was already moving on to feeling relief and gratitude rather than fear and pain. And I rode my bicycle off into the early afternoon sun. 

Mile 96. Finishing the ride and rolling across the finish line triumphant might not have been one of the smartest things I’ve ever done, but it certainly felt wonderful. As wonderful – and maybe more so than if I had simply completed the ride fast, furiously, and without incident. I was overwhelmed with the good fortune of still having an intact brain that being able to ride a bike on top of it was pure bliss. The finish line of the Sea Otter Gran Fondo is a rather anti-climatic scene; a few lone clappers, and announcer, and girls swinging medals that they’ll attempt to put round your neck if you slow enough to let them. In essence, riders can then enjoy the act of logging yet another century in their books and then trotting off to the beer tent to celebrate it and there is something sweet and so worthwhile about this ceremony alone.

The sun beat down on the festival and the girls and I enjoyed the remains of the day, drifting around meeting friends and members of the cycling family (after paying a necessary visit to the medical tent for me. They confirmed that I was fine.) We pulled skirts and ditched our shammies, we polished off our celebratory beers and had another to wash down the everything-in-sight that we ate. I was so proud to have these ladies at my side; hard charging, tenacious, big-hearted, and big-thighed. And I cannot wait to ride with them again and soon.

If my victory at Sea Otter last year was an introduction to road racing, then this year’s event was surely the crash course; in the strategy, endurance, psycology, physics, survival, etiquette and sociology and style of cycling. But more over, it was a reminder that there is something pure and elemental about the bliss we bikers are privy to – the ride, the company, and the opportunity to just BE out there is a gift, and one that can all too quickly be taken away. Despite falling hard, I’ve not been deterred at all to getting back on the bike again – of course – for as much as I give that machine, it, and the community that pay homage to it, gives me MORE.