Fun. Tribe. Challenge. Perseverance.
All of the above words represent how this season of mountain bike racing with the California Enduro Series has felt to me. It is hard to believe that just six months ago, I set out with a goal to race and eventually win the Beginner Women’s category series overall. It has been an epic adventure, full of rich experiences; truly, a once in a lifetime experience. Now that it has come to an end, I’m reflecting back upon the last half of the season (Rounds 5-8), and what this whole experience has meant to me, though I don’t know that words can fully describe just how awesome it was!
CES Round #5: Crafts and Cranks Enduro at Snow Summit in Big Bear, July 17-18
Snow Summit is a snow and mountain-bike park in the Southern California town of Big Bear, and the Crafts and Cranks mountain bike festival was three days of big air, pump-track, cross-country, downhill, enduro, and other races. This was my first two-day race: half the race was on Friday afternoon, with the other half Saturday morning. There were five stages over two days, with part chairlift-assist: once per day we got to ride the lift to the top, but the other climbs were pedal-powered, steep, hot, and consistent at altitude.
Like most places on the CES tour, I’d never ridden there until the race. Leaving my house in Ben Lomond about 5 a.m. on Friday the 17, I drove through Tehachapi and the desert to Big Bear, arriving in time for practice around noon. I had a hotel room reserved at the local Motel 6 in Big Bear for Friday night and would drive back home Saturday after the race. Talk about a whirlwind trip – 14 hours of driving for about 5 hours of riding in 48 hours!
I got in a few practice laps before our afternoon race-time began. The mountain didn’t feel overwhelming; it felt a lot like Northstar, or Downieville. I felt tired from the early morning rise and long drive down, but I was happy I got to pre-ride most of the course except the last two laps. There were only four of us in our Beginner Women category this time – our smallest turnout yet. We raced our two laps within a couple of hours: fun, flowy trails. Then, we all went back to our hotels, campsites, or cars for an evening of rest.
The next morning, we started with a long fire-road of a climb from the bottom of Snow Summit to the top. The chair-lifts laughed at us as we climbed, at altitude no less. Our hardest downhill was the first lap of the day called Miracle Mile: a rocky, technical run with tree-roots and log-drops interspersed for good measure. We flew down the trail, in 30-second intervals, and finished the final two stages of the race within two hours. I got 2nd place in this race. I felt happy with how I did for not having ridden there before. It was a really fun mountain – a lot like Northstar or the Tahoe area with lots of granite and conifers. For Southern Californians, it’s the best downhill mountain bike park around. One of my favorite parts about the whole trip was watching the pros compete on the big air mountain bike park, hitting back-flips and no-handed, soaring arcs as graceful as a deer.
I really enjoyed being somewhere new; it’s always fun to go somewhere you haven’t been, and get a sense of it. Mostly, I like hanging out with “my people”; the tribal element of being among so many like-minded individuals buoys my spirit and inspires me. There are so many cool, supportive women that provides a sense of sisterhood. I met a lot of awesome people here! It was after this race that I decided I was going to Ashland for the final sold-out race, CES Round #8; within a week, I’d gotten a transfer in and was committed to finishing the series. A fire had been lit under me!
CES Round #6: Northstar at Tahoe, August 25-26, 2017
Northstar is the bomb! Anyone who’s ridden there will tell you it’s one of the meccas for mountain biking in NorCal. Luckily, this was the one course I’d actually ridden several times before. And it would pay off.
Ron (my husband) and I drove up early Friday morning, rode Northstar, and set up camp at Prosser Reservoir just outside of Truckee. It was absolutely gorgeous! The weather was hot, and the sky crystal clear at night, with shooting stars streaking about.
On race-day Saturday morning, we started with a long climb up from the base to the top of the mountain; again, those chair-lifts just laugh at us while we climb! Our first stage was a mellow, flowy downhill called Coaster. My head wasn’t quite in race-mode yet, and it wasn’t until stage 2, Sticks and Stones, that I really felt like I was in my groove. By the third stage, Flameout, I felt confident I was leading the pack.
That night, Ron and I went to Sierraville Hot Springs for a healing soak in their hot tubs. It was absolutely magical. When I awoke Sunday morning for the second half of the race, I felt well-rested and ready to go!
Sunday brought the gnarlier routes: we began with Boondocks, a loose, rocky downhill that everyone kept talking about. Within our group of six women, we were all bonding over our experience on the mountain together. One of my favorite parts about doing these races has been the camaraderie among the women I’ve met: we all share a love and passion for mountain biking, and it’s so cool to be part of that. This trip was no different; we shared many laughs and stories in between our stages and transfers. There were a few familiar faces, like Anne-Laurie, a nice woman who’s been at most of the races like I have. A cool girl from Texas named Stacie showed me the highlight of the whole trip: the Ferda girls “Humble” parody. You must watch it to understand! Those women in the video are my heroes, depicting the all-too-common sexism often found in mountain biking and other male-dominated sports.
It was also during our time hanging out together when I realized how basic my bike was compared to everyone else’s. Here I was riding with 110mm front and rear-shocks, with no automatic dropper-post like they all had. Everyone had more shock than I did; most had 160’s. The girls were telling me I was crazy to be riding my bike there at Northstar; how could I not have a more downhill-oriented bike for this gnarly terrain? When I got my Specialized Camber Comp 29’er four years ago in 2013, I had upgraded from an old Cannondale hardtail 26’er that would shake me like a rock-tumbler on anything remotely rocky. Upgrading to a full-suspension mountain bike, with the rolling power of 29” wheels to boot, was like unleashing a cheetah: run, run, run was all I wanted to do! But among all the nice bikes with big shocks made me reconsider if I was missing out on anything: what if I upgraded my bike? Would it open up a next level of riding? Suddenly my bike seemed a little too cross-country. Admittedly, my shocks had been underwhelming on the rocky downhill we were doing at all of the races. My shoulders were always sore after the races from taking up so much shock on the downhills. I’m strong, but I don’t want to work that hard if I don’t have to.
Standing there on the mountain, readying to ride our next stage, I started daydreaming about a new bike. As quickly as I did, I was reminded that I had ridden so many places on my bike, with “only 110’s” as some were quick to point out, and if I am doing this well in the races with my current bike, let that speak for my riding abilities: I can make a 110 work, even if I’m one of the only ones rocking one. I felt confident in my steed, knowing how many trails she’s gotten me down before.
Our fifth stage was Karpiel, another fast, loose, technical descent, one I’d never ridden before until the race-day. It felt a lot like the bottom section of Magic Carpet in Santa Cruz, a trail I ride all the time, so I just kept on rolling over all the rocks and log drops. This lap would turn out to be my fastest lap yet. I felt pretty pumped after finishing this run!
We finished with our last stage on Gypsy, a classic downhill at Northstar. By the time we arrived to our final stage, we’d been riding for a few hours at altitude, and I was definitely getting hungry; I was bonking. I didn’t hesitate to take my last lap and finish the race, going straight for a snack and tons of water when I finished.
Ron and I stayed for the awards ceremony, where I found out I’d won first place by a comfortable margin. Again, there’s a clear correlation between pre-riding a course and doing well on it. It felt awesome to win first place for the second time in this series (Mammoth Bar, CES Round #1). Ron and I went for a swim in Lake Tahoe at King’s Beach before heading back home to Santa Cruz.
This was such a fun race! I was exhausted by the end, but I so enjoyed finding my flow and grace on this course. I felt strong the whole way through, and happy with how I’d ridden. Moreover, I’d spent another weekend in beautiful mountain country, one of my favorite landscapes around. I feel at home in the mountains, and most of all, love going down them upon land or snow!
CES Round #7: Kamikaze Bike Games at Mammoth Mountain, September 16
Mammoth has long been an area I’ve wanted to go snowboarding at. It lies high in the Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains, an area I’ve spent a lot of time exploring through hiking and rock-climbing over the years. But I’d never been to Mammoth, and I was really excited for this trip!
I took Friday the 15th off work to make the early 5.5 hour drive down, driving through stunningly beautiful Yosemite National Park and Tioga Pass. As soon as I hit Highway 395 at Mono Lake in Lee Vining, I felt like I was home. How had it been five years since I’d been here?! I wondered. The last climbing trip I’d done to Bishop with Ron felt like forever ago, especially compared to how often I used to go in my early twenties when I was a real climber. There is something strikingly gorgeous about the Eastern Sierras that is like nowhere else I’ve been on Earth: it’s a convergence of two completely different landscapes, and a juxtaposition of mercy and power that humbles you. The geology is impressively awesome, with the steep scarp of the Sierras jutting up out of the high-desert plateau, to towering summits well over 11,000’. The Long Valley Caldera below is alive with geothermal activity, providing some Eden-like hot springs to soak in after a long day out and about. It is simply heaven out here. And on this trip, I had the luxury of staying on-mountain at the Mammoth Mountain Inn, with my own “hot spring” located conveniently down the hall from my room.
I made it to Mammoth by 11:30 a.m., and picked up my race-plate and t-shirt. I kitted up quickly as we only had between 11:00 and 2:00 p.m. that day and 7:30 – 9:00 a.m. the next morning to practice the course; we could be disqualified for riding outside of those times. I knew I would want to sleep in on the morning of the race, so I hurried off to start my pre-ride.
The first lap was down DC-10, which just about took my breath away when I hit the top of a super steep, loose section. I have learned over the years to stop and watch others until I see how I could do it; once I’ve seen a possibility, it’s “Monkey See, Monkey Do” and I can visualize myself doing it. I moved off-trail and watched as everyone from pros to beginners came through on their practice laps; I felt reassured by how many of them stopped like me to scope the approach before taking a deep breath and committing themselves (with some inevitably sliding out in the process). After a few minutes, I walked my bike back up the trail to gather some speed for my entry, and dropped into that section thinking to myself, “I can, I have, and I will”, a common mantra I say to myself in times of uncertainty. I can physically handle this; I am strong enough to hold my weight as far back as I can, while still keeping control of my handlebars and braking so as not to slide out. I have done so many “gnarly” rides in the past; so many drop-ins where my heart was pounding out of my chest, but once I committed, I completed – with the rush of a thousand laughs. The confidence that comes with experience gives me faith in myself and my skills: I know I can handle challenging, mountainous terrain like this. I will do this – right now, no hesitation, no excuses. Just go: 100%, fully committed, Flow with Grace, Girl. Be in your element; this is where you belong. Mountain biking is in my blood.
I made it down DC-10 feeling a little bit nervous about the rest of the course, I’ll admit (watch a video of it here; go to 5:00 in for the steep part I’m talking about). It was so loose, steep, and had the “kitty-litter” texture I’d heard about that made it so untrustworthy. I was a fish out of water, in completely new terrain and dirt. But the Science teacher in me was geeking out on these rocks: the mountain ranged from jagged volcanic rocks like pumice and rhyollite, to plutonic igneous rocks like granite, with some metamorphic rocks thrown into the mix. Mammoth Mountain itself is a dormant volcano, part of the Long Valley Caldera, which still rumbles with seismic activity today.
I was able to pre-ride three out of the four race stages, missing the last chair-lift by only minutes; the course marshals were quite strict in this race about everything overall. The second and third stages were nowhere near as intimidating as that section of DC-10, luckily, and I was beginning to really enjoy the conditions. The famed Kamikaze Downhill was exhilarating with the wind screaming through my helmet as I soared down the fire-road trail from the top of the mountain at 11,053’ to the bottom at about 9,000’. The goal seemed to be go as fast as you can without losing control and eating it, because the rocky surface threatened to wash you out like ball-bearings with any slip of the tire or improper weight-shift. It might have been from the altitude, but my forearms were burning after this one from braking so much. The third lap was pedaly and flowy (a section of it was even called “Flow”), and by that point, it was just as well that I was denied boarding the lift for that last lap. I was exhausted, but was excited to see Devil’s Postpile, a geologic wonder I’d long wanted to see.
I made the thirty minute drive to the end of Highway 203 to Devil’s Postpile. It was a short hike in, under a mile, to reach the hexagonal basaltic columns. The Minarets rose dramatically to the North behind me; the middle fork of the San Joaquin snakes its way through the valley below. It was wonderful.
The next day, I slept in and had a nice hot tub to start the day. Our race time wasn’t until 1 p.m., so I could take my time getting ready; the best part was I was well-rested. All of my races until then had involved getting up early, and I am not known for being a morning person. I felt charged.
I saw two familiar girls, Jeni and Anne-Laure, at the start of the race. We happily caught up with each other, and talked about the conditions. Again, I love the women I meet and the camaraderie. We had a lot of fun getting to know each other better throughout the day of the race.
We started our first lap, which had the steep section of DC-10 that kind of intimidated me. But now I knew I had done it, if only once, and now when I thought I can, I have, I will, I really had faith in the I have part. I made it through with some flow and grace, my shocks bottoming out in spots and kicking my upper body into overdrive as it served to take up the slack. It was done, though, and I instantly felt relieved that it didn’t loom anymore. Now I felt like I could relax a bit and enjoy myself, which I thoroughly did for the rest of the race.
I got second place in this race out of our group of six women. Like most of the other races where I’ve gotten second, the first place has gone to someone who has actually ridden the mountain before, often regularly like a local. That’s the interesting part about being in the “Beginner” category: you’re more likely to get a wider range of skill-levels and experience. For example, a local sees there’s a mountain bike race at their mountain, on their home turf, but with little to no background in racing, they’ll enter as a Beginner. It’s all part of being in the most mixed group of them all; our times have the widest ranges from each other. When you look at the Expert and Pro category times, they are all within mere seconds of each other – typically ten seconds or less. That’s how competitive it gets. In our Beginner category, there are typically two and a half minutes between rider times. For example, my total winning time at Northstar was 1:01.16, while second place was 1:03.49; the pattern pretty much continued after that. I was happy with second place, and happy to have a nice hot tub and sleep in my hotel room. Moreover, I was excited about seeing Mammoth and its intriguing geologic features.
I drove home the next morning through the June Lake Loop and stopping multiple times on the way home: Mono Lake, Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite. California is endlessly, epicly gorgeous, and I feel so grateful to live here!
CES Round #8 Series Finale: Ashland, Oregon, October 7, 2017
Ron and I set out early Friday morning, October 6, for Ashland to pre-ride the course, catching a fully-packed four o’clock shuttle with Ashland Mountain Adventures up to Mt. Ashland Ski Area. Our shuttle driver drove like a bat out of hell up the winding mountain roads, maximizing our centrifugal force with each curve. “Anyone else seasick?” a rider quipped. After he said that, it was all I could think about. When we got off at the base of the Mt. Ashland Ski Area, it was blustery and cold, but I was relieved to get out of the van.
We took off down Bull Gap to ride Stage 3, Lizard to Catwalk Trail. This was a pedaly stage with the most uphills of all the stages I’ve done so far, and it was the longest stage of the four. It was gorgeous, though: mixed conifer forests dominated the upper elevations, transitioning to deciduous woodland in the lower foothills. Ashland is certifiably stunning! I can totally see the allure of living here, especially with the abundant outdoor activities in the area. I wish I’d taken more pictures on this trip!
By the time we reached Stage 4, Jabberwocky Trail, the stoke really kicked in. This trail is an awesome flow trail, replete with jumps and tight turns, and a total blast! I scared the heck out of myself a couple of times flying down it. First, I went off a jump way too fast, and realized instantly I was higher than I’ve ever been. It was exhilarating, and sent my stomach straight up into my throat. I straightened out my front tire, and landed with a hard thud as I maxed out my shocks (I have 110, not the typical 150-160mm of travel), but rode it out while exalting a loud “WOO!” into the forest. I could have totally just eaten it! I mused; but I didn’t fall, and I wanted to do it again! How much fun was that?!
Pushing boundaries never fails to excite and enliven, and as Murphy’s Law would have it, I nearly hit a tree soon after. I had time to anticipate it, but the trail was off-camber and extra run-out from all of the racers, inviting me to slide out in the loose dirt. For a moment I felt like I was just helplessly drifting in slow-motion into that tree. With all my might I leaned to the right and barely missed it. We finished the trail at Lithia Park, and rode back to our hotel at the Cedarwood Inn. We had one of the best Indian dinners ever at Taj Indian Cuisine Restaurant, which put us to sleep nicely with full bellies.
Saturday morning, Ron dropped me off at the race venue at the end of Lithia Park. I began the 7.5 mile climb up the mountain, which lagged on for an hour and a half or so. I had time to think about all sorts of different things, and then to not think at all. It felt a lot like Hihn Road at Demo in the Santa Cruz Mountains; in fact, the whole terrain reminded me a lot of Demo overall. I saw my friend Anne-Laure at the top, and we soon took off for our first stage – a fast, flowy trail down Horn Gap. I didn’t get to ride stages one and two the day earlier, but fortunately both of these stages proved to be straightforward and were a ton of fun! It was nice to have some downhill after climbing so long in the morning, and it definitely jazzed me up.
When I finished Stage Two, Hitt Road, I returned to the venue, reuniting with Anne-Laure and Jeni, two awesome ladies I’ve made friends with during the series, and met several other cool girls in our racing group of nine women. We had about an hour to eat and rest at the venue before loading up into the bike shuttle for Mt. Ashland, to ride Stages Three and Four. I tried to eat during this break, but it’s always hard for me to do so in the middle of exercising. I can drink liquids fine, but eating almost makes feel nauseas. But the more I race, the more I realize how important it is to eat. I forced some peanut-butter filled pretzels and Luna bar down, and drank a ton of water.
By the time we were dropped off at Mt. Ashland, however, I was even hungrier than before, and really feeling the fatigue. Stage Three loomed ahead – the longest stage of them all – and I just felt like getting it over with. I don’t have an automatic dropper-post, so I opted to keep my seat up for the pedaly, uphill sections; of course, this made the downhill sections that much harder and clumsier. I almost fell in an easy rock garden that I’d rolled over without a second thought the day earlier. This is your last race; don’t crash! I didn’t want to eat it on the last laps, and I was bonking out. Then I didn’t care anymore about how I did. That was the cool thing about going into this race: I knew I already had the points to win the series overall, so it didn’t matter how I did in this last race. I didn’t even need to be there; it was just for the fun of it. Knowing how fatigue spells danger, I slowed my pace and decided to cool my jets a bit. This was yet another stage in the series where I really wished I had an automatic dropper-post to adjust my seat while riding without stopping.
The reward lay ahead, though: Stage Four, the Jabberwocky Trail! This was the icing on the cake. This was the last stage of the last race of the series, and I took a moment to soak in the finality of it all. I enjoyed this last stage so much, despite the sections of chatter from all the brake-bumps. I imagined this trail being extra sick in late Spring before all the riders tear it up. I finished the last stage of the race with a huge sigh of relief, and a smile on my face.
I turned in my timing chip to get my results, and redeemed my meal ticket for some much needed nourishment. As I sat there eating by the beautiful Ashland Creek, watching the other riders hanging out in the beer garden and venue area, I realized just how special this entire experience has been. It is really a once in a lifetime experience; you never know what the future holds, but I know I’ll never have this same experience again in my life. Suddenly, I felt emotional and sentimental about the entire series, and how enriching it had been on so many levels. And then I saw a man standing among the crowd; his stature showed years of experience and adventures. The way he was looking among the crowd implied a nostalgia, a fond looking back on perhaps his years racing; of course, this could’ve been completely of my own imagining. As I watched him happily linger among the crowd and his friends, the stoke on his face clear, I imagined myself at that stage of my life – older, wiser, so many adventures lived. I teared up, realizing how special and temporary this all is; as I get older, I appreciate these moment more and more. It’s made me happy on a spiritual level. How cool to have all of these people, a tribe of enthusiastic, passionate, outdoorsy mountain bikers, who come together to challenge themselves in the spirit of cheerful competition? Absolutely awesome!
And then I recognized a handsome face in the crowd – my husband Ron! I hugged him and thanked him for being there to support me; I shared my sentiments with him, and was so happy to see him. What’s winning if you have no one to share it with?
We ate some food among a celebratory crowd, and caught up on each others’ days. The race organizers did an amazing job of keeping the crowd entertained while the race results were being finalized. The beer garden was a popular hang-out spot, and there were several vendor booths to peruse. People shared stories about their race days; some had bandages from falls. But everyone there had a smile on their face. The love we share for mountain biking is palpable. They began the awards with the Pro and Expert categories, and the crowd provided a well-deserved, warm cheering as the winners were called up to the podium; a team of festive riders got their party on with keg-stands and a bottle of Jameson to boot. Everyone was in a happy mood.
They called the Beginner Women category last, and I came in first; this was my third win for the series! It feels fantastic to win, and definitely stokes me out. There were nine women in our group this race, and the top five were called up to the podium. We got some cool swag, and cheered each other on.
They finished off the evening with the Series Finale Awards for the season. There were eight races total in the series, and they take your top six results. I rode seven of the races (I missed the Mendocino race, although I rode some of the course at Jackson Demo this Summer). First place is 50 points, second is 44, third is 40. I had 282 total points for my top six results – three first place, and three second place (my third place from Toro Park was omitted). It was a done deal. Then they called me up for my award: First Place Series Overall Beginner Women! I did it, I’m done, and I won! I was stoked, and a little bit proud. All of the trips, planning, and energy had paid off. It had come to an end, and I was standing exactly where I wanted to be.
I’ll miss these races now that the season’s over. All the road-trips – new restaurants, hotels and camping, exploring amazing new places – and meeting so many cool people have made each event not just a ride, but an adventure. California is a stunningly beautiful, ecologically diverse state, and riding in all of these new places has inspired me to explore it even more. We are lucky to have so many amazing places for mountain biking! I love a good weekend away, and there are many courses on this tour that I’d love to return to. If I had to pick my top three races, I’d say Northstar, Mammoth, and then Mammoth Bar. They’ve all been exceptional places, though.
Beyond the fun of riding in beautiful new places, I love the community and camaraderie among this stellar group of people. I’ve met so many awesome women that have inspired me on many levels. The friends I’ve made, laughs we’ve shared, and encouragement we’ve given each other has lifted my spirits and made this whole experience much more than just a “race”.
When it came to racing, my philosophy throughout this competition has basically been: 1) Ride each race start to finish, getting down the mountain in one piece; 2) Enjoy the experience, finding the flow and grace of the trail; and 3) Kick ass and ride my fastest. Pretty much that simple, and in that order. I also think I can, I have, and I will. Having a positive attitude from start to finish is key.
I love riding first and foremost, and it was important to me to have fun and enjoy each race. If something’s not fun, I generally don’t do it; life’s too short. Racing was almost a secondary goal, one which I explored this season with open eyes and ears. I’ve definitely learned a lot along the way. One of the most important, if not obvious, lessons was the advantage of pre-riding a course; you’re going to ride better on a familiar course versus a blind one. I didn’t always pre-ride the courses, and a few I just rode blind.
Each race brought a unique challenge, both physical and mental, that ultimately rewarded us in ways we didn’t expect. I didn’t expect to win my category, and I didn’t expect to get so sentimental about the whole experience! It’s been enriching on so many levels.
I’d never won first place in any organized sports competition before doing these races, and it felt pretty darn good to feel it! I settled some old business with myself in that sense. It was a lot of hard work – getting up early, driving all over the state, and then riding hard, long courses, most of which in hot weather, and mostly blind. I gave it all I got, and when I couldn’t give anymore, I pedaled through the motions and kept on going. I never crashed and hurt myself (though I certainly had a couple of close calls). I’m proud of myself, yet I feel humble when I compare myself to the girls riding in the categories above me because I know the benchmark for mastery is higher. I definitely have a fire lit under me to meet it! When I compared my stage times to higher categories, in a few races I was actually competitive (if not ranking toward the bottom), so that motivates me. Sometimes I wish I’d started racing at a younger age; this last race in Ashland was coincidentally my last weekend as a thirty-six year old. As I bring in a new year October 10, I am keenly aware of the finity of doing the things I love, which makes me want to do them as much as I can while I’m able.
Will I race again after this season? You never know what the future holds, but I’d say the possibility is high. If I do, I’ll race in the Sport 35+ or Expert category to really challenge myself. Whatever the case, I’ll keep on riding my bike as often as I can.
Thank you for reading about my journey. May we all be blessed with plenty of adventure, flow, and grace!
Katrin Elizabeth Deetz