I died and raced in heaven

After writing race reports religiously for two years, I realized something important: writing a race report is like trying to narrate a rollercoaster ride.

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People who didn’t ride the rollercoaster read the report and think that they get it… but they really don’t. People who did ride the rollercoaster remember what it was actually like… and think that your report sucks and doesn’t do the real thing justice.

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No one wants to read a race report. What we actually want is to see pictures of guys screaming like little girls, arms raised, horrified, mortified, GETTING IT. For the first time ever, I’m going to write a race report that is not a race report… so that

  1. People who have never raced a bicycle before will finally get what it’s like to race a bicycle, and
  2. People who have raced a bicycle before will be so distracted by the epic narrative that they overlook what place I actually came at Nationals.

I repeat: This is not a race report.

OK. You have instructions for this non-race report. Every part of this story is accompanied by a very specific soundtrack. You have to play the soundtrack while you read.

Otherwise it won’t work.

Ready?

GETTING TO UTAH

Last Thursday, I set off for USA Cycling Collegiate Road Nationals in Ogden, UT.

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I woke up to a wonderful sign from my roommates, complete with a shockingly accurate portrait of me and my hair.

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As always, I brought a book to read on the plane. And as always, I opened the book on my lap but just slept the entire time instead.

A shuttle took me from Salt Lake City to our hotel in Ogden. The shuttle driver asked me about bicycle racing and I asked the Mormon shuttle driver about Mormons. Their official animal is the honeybee and they think that the mountains in Utah are ugly. I was flabbergasted.

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These guys? Ugly?? Were we talking about the same mountains?!???

I also saw a wolf in the back seat of a car.

“Wow, that’s a big dog.”

“That’s a pet wolf!”

“No.”

“Yes! That’s a wolf!”

“No.”

“Yes!”

SETTLING IN

When I arrived at the hotel room, it was just me. I dropped off my stuff and hung out with Dean from Marian for a bit. The Yale team was kind enough to adopt me for the night, and fed/watered/entertained me in their condo. Jelle taught me how to hide in the bushes during a race, Dan taught me how to tape my frame number like a pro, and Hannah ordered me to bring a sacrificial bison from Antelope Island the next day as tribute. Erica The-Nicest-Woman-In-The-ECCC Blom smiled a lot and was just really nice per usual.

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There were herds of bison on Antelope Island, the location of the next day’s race.

I left with a full belly of pasta and set off to clean my embarrassingly dirty bike. It was NASTY. Grease, dirt, more grease. There was no hose. No bucket.

But there was a shower…

In the shower my bike went. My roommates are unaware, but this isn’t the first time I’ve taken my bike in a shower. I’ve most definitely had a shower with my bike more times than with any human being in my life. (Told you this wasn’t going to be a race report.)

Problem: The bike was dirtier than I thought. There was black grease all over the tub. It looked like someone had painted the bottom of the tub black. There was black grease all over ME. It was 10PM.

Solution: Clean the bike grease off the tub. I had degreaser and dish washing soap, hoorah!

This took one and a half hours.

Have you ever scrubbed bike grease out of the bottom of a bathtub for 1.5 hours? I don’t think you have. Step 1 is to blast Katy Perry. Step 2 is to scrub harder, faster, because, Oh Mah Gawd, I have roommates from Penn State who are going to get to the hotel any moment now, I swear they are even though they said their flight was delayed, and they’re going to see me covered in grease, scrubbing black grease out of the bottom of a bathtub, with a bottle of degreaser on the toilet and dishwashing soap on the edge of the bathtub, Oh Mah Gawd, this is going to be their first impression of me, how awful. You! Make! Me! Feel like I’m living a Teen!age! Dream!

I did my best. The bathtub looked passable. I cleaned most of the grease off myself. Went to bed. And…

…woke up the next morning with a stranger in my bed. A Penn State racer, Carren, had Facebook messaged me a week ago to split rooms. We had talked for a few minutes total and I had no idea what she looked like without a helmet and glasses. All I knew was that she wore the same helmet and shoes as me and that I had many a time said, “Nice helmet” or “Nice shoes,” thinking I was being so clever, only to have her deny incorrectly that we had the same helmet and shoes.

Her teammate Arnaud was also there. My teammate Heather joined us later in the day but her bike didn’t, unfortunately, till late that night. We bonded over hashbrowns, shopping for bulk food, and ordering a fridge for the room to store said bulk food. And bike riding.

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Carren making sure her bike looked pro for the photo; I was probably laughing

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Carren Stika Photography (R) (C) (TM) would like credit for this photo

We could feel the altitude as soon as the road started to tilt up. Well, actually, I couldn’t hear Carren breathing hard so I spent half the time pretending that I wasn’t breathing hard so as not to sound like an unacclimated noob who breathed hard. The moment I realized Carren was also breathing hard was the greatest moment of relief in my life. We half-heartedly rode towards the mountain but then decided, heck no.

RACE 1: CRITERIUM, 60 MINUTES

The 60 minute crit, set in downtown Ogden, was Saturday. It was warm, windy, and sunny, on a beautiful, wide, 8-corner course that we would do 43245 laps on. The race announcers called us up to the line, one by one, and I swear that my heart has never beaten as hard before a race. It was nerves, more than anything I’d ever felt before in any race in my life. More than any speech I’ve given, any test I’ve taken, more than when our bikes were stolen. All of a sudden, Carren pulled up to my left and gave me a This-Is-OK rub on the shoulder, which was the second-greatest moment of relief in my life.

And boom. We were off.

Clip in. Clip in! Jeez these ladies don’t screw around, we’re racing from the first second. Move up. Don’t crash. Move up. Can’t breathe. Oh the altitude. Can’t breathe. Move up. Can’t breathe. Can’t. Breathe. Move. Up. Get out of the wind. AHHHHHHH CRASH DON’T CRASH RIDE AROUND. Another crash. Another. Another. Four crashes. Oh, hi LSU. Come on, ride harder than that. We have to work together. “LSU! We’re 15 seconds ahead of the field! 16 seconds! 17 seconds! Keep it up!”

LSU told me after the race that my (factually incorrect and somewhat delusional) cheering pulled her out of a “deep dark cave,” which I believe because she started riding a lot faster.

The point?

In a race, there are very few things that go through your head, and those few things dictate how you ride, so those things better be positive things, no matter how negative your situation is.

RACE 2: ROAD RACE, 60 MILES

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It was, quite literally, the most beautiful bike race course I’d ever seen in my life in the US

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Carren took approximately 432048234958340867525386745867 photos

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Just perfect.

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A waterfall! There was a waterfall in our race!!

Basically, I had died and gone to heaven. Driving this course was mind-blowing, which meant that the race would be nothing less than a religious experience. A lot of the time I get so focused on racing and the next race and the last race and the finish line that I forget how incredibly, unbelievably lucky I am to get to race my bike across the country and around the world. THIS, these mountains, waterfalls, fields of grass, horses, roads, THIS is what it’s all about. There will always be another finish line but THIS, these experiences, this particular race, this rock, this climb, comes once. I’m one of the luckiest people in the world because I get to do this and because I LOVE this, all of this, this moment, every moment, regardless of what happens at the finish line.

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Peak of the next day’s climb–we probably won’t be smiling the next time we’re going up on our bikes…

The road race the next day was fast. 58 women, 60 miles, 3 hours. I’ve never gone that fast on a bike for that long in as large of a group before. Non-cyclists: we’re literally a few inches in any direction from the next racer. Bump together the wrong way and bikes/bones/flesh gets mangled in three seconds.

Don’t crash. Move up. Move up. Don’t cr–OHHH GROSS THAT GIRL JUST BLEW HER SNOT ALL OVER MY KNEE. GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! OK now the snot is sliding up my leg. GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! OK now the snot is drying. GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! GROSS! This isn’t bad at all. I can do this for three hours, no problemo. Move up. Get out of the wind. Don’t crash. Eat something. Eat. Now. OK now drink. Don’t crash. Move up. Don’t crash. Eat. Drink. Move up. Don’t crash. 

We stayed together until mile 50 or so, when a few small rolling climbs began. I got dropped. I saw the field getting further and further away, until they disappeared. Then the real climb began, up the real mountain, and I saw some women ahead.

Just climb.

I turned on “Glad You Came” in my head.

I looked down. The sunscreen, sweat, dirt, and strain of the climb mixed together and I could see every bronzed bit of muscle as I pedaled.

Where did these muss-kles come from? …Just shut up and climb. Oh. The girl in front of me is getting closer. I’m climbing faster than she is. The sun goes down… the stars come out. Just climb. Closer. Closer. Closer. Passed her. Next girl. Closer. Closer. Closer. Passed her. Next girl. Closer. Closer. Closer. Passed her. Can you go faster? Yes, you can. Can hear nothing but my breathing and the song. Closer. Closer. Closer. Passed her.

Should have pushed harder. There were two girls in front that I never ended up catching. Your mind goes blank. You get out of the saddle, hear nothing but the song, see nothing but the pavement moving under you.

Descend. Don’t crash. Hear nothing but wind. Zero room to hesitate. Eyes tearing up from the wind. Oh crap. OH CRAP OH CRAP WHEEL SKIDDING ABOUT TO HIT ROCKS. KEEP IT UNDER CONTROL, BRING IT BACK UNDER CONTROL—PHEW. Descend. 

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After the descent, with a group close behind

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Caught by the group

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Final corner, mile 60

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My butt was very decidedly kicked in the final sprint

Undoubtedly my favorite race ever. It’s nuts to think that not much more than 2 years ago, I still didn’t know how to shift my gears properly, let alone race a bike.

So, yes, Ogden was truly great. Stuff I left out:

  • The murder Swiss knife
  • Heather’s description of the climb, in which the word “climb” consisted of more than half the words
  • Strawberries
  • Arnaud’s lemonade
  • The horrific crash in the men’s field that took down half the riders
  • Broken femurs
  • Broken collarbones
  • Split checks
  • The Thai restaurant
  • The ridiculously surprisingly good noodle place
  • Gluten free
  • Closed on Sundays
  • Food
  • Food
  • Food
  • Food
  • Food
  • Food
  • Food
  • Sleep
  • Sleep
  • Sleep
  • Sleep
  • Getting physically assaulted multiple times by an unnamed individual
  • THE WATER BOTTLE SEARCH AND RESCUE MISSION. OH LORD. OHHH LORD.
  • Country music
  • So much country music…
  • Cheering riders up the side of a mountain
  • Smoothies
  • The Blender
  • The pool
  • Pointlessness
  • Pointfulness
  • Getting pointed at

I

LOVE

RACING

BIKES.

THE END.

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