BUTCHER PA­PER

Bike (USA) - - Contents -

I’m def­i­nitely not a racer.

When I fol­lowed through on a ran­dom urge to com­pete in three bike events in one week, I was as sur­prised as any­one else.

My train­ing reg­i­men for rac­ing is the same as my gen­eral life strat­egy: When in doubt, rely solely on stub­born­ness and masochis­tic ten­den­cies to cross the fin­ish line. In lieu of a heart-rate mon­i­tor, my aer­o­bic ‘train­ing zone’ is mea­sured by the par­tially di­gested break­fast vurped up into the back of my throat. I like to start in the ‘just a titch too much chorizo’ zone, then kick up the pace un­til the ‘I’m never drink­ing mar­gar­i­tas again’ stage, and fin­ish with a re­cov­ery cooldown in­volv­ing high tones of ar­ti­fi­cially fla­vored en­ergy gels.

I may not be a racer, but I am com­pet­i­tive as hell. Put me in the same room as a foos­ball ta­ble and you can watch my lust for win­ning and pen­chant for obscene smack talk es­cape with the vo­rac­ity of an alien skedad­dling through John Hurt’s rib cage.

My love for rid­ing spans so many gen­res that I can’t seem to fo­cus in on any par­tic­u­lar niche. I’m on one bike or an­other al­most ev­ery day of the week, but rarely the same bike two days in a row. Flit­ting from one genre to the next keeps my soul con­tent, but also ce­ments my sta­tus as a Jane-of-all-trades and mas­ter of none.

And maybe that’s the dirty lit­tle se­cret I’ve been hid­ing from my­self. I don’t race be­cause I don’t want to lose. I en­joy the free­dom of rid­ing which­ever bike tick­les my fancy too much to com­mit to any par­tic­u­lar steed.

The bike’s unique abil­ity to shapeshift into myr­iad ex­pe­ri­ences is why my garage is lined with an as­sort­ment of two-wheeled won­ders, each Lego’d to­gether to fit a spe­cific style of rid­ing. Bike peo­ple get it. Non-bike peo­ple give me ‘the look’ when I ex­plain that my com­muter is vastly different from my ice-cream get­ter and the half-as­sem­bled gravel grinder in the cor­ner.

My love of all the bikes is what got me into this rac­ing mess in the first place. It started when I signed up to ride in an ob­served bike tri­als com­pe­ti­tion, then saw a women’s-only-cross-coun­try race was hap­pen­ing the next day. A hand­ful of days later, I’d head to

Vail to finally dis­cover what this whole en­duro thing I’ve been mak­ing fun of was all about.

Three dis­ci­plines. Three com­pe­ti­tions. Three op­por­tu­ni­ties to fin­ish, quit, get hurt, be hum­bled and

see how I stack up.

At the tri­als comp, I strapped my shin guards on and sized up my be­gin­ner class peers, both of whom still re­quired par­ents to get into R-rated movies. Rid­ing in a com­pe­ti­tion where you’re pe­nal­ized for ev­ery dab is new for me, and my lack of ex­pe­ri­ence showed. I won a hand­ful of sec­tions but lost most, even­tu­ally walk­ing away with a third place rib­bon and a zil­lion cac­tus tines em­bed­ded in my hands.

At my age, the chances of mov­ing up to pro are about the same as me sud­denly de­cid­ing that I love run­ning. I may never be at that level, but there’s an odd com­fort in know­ing they started off where I am. Af­ter all, we’re all walk­ing the line be­tween our de­sires to win and the re­al­i­ties of fail­ure.

Col­laps­ing into bed well af­ter mid­night with an alarm set for 5 a.m. made me want to bail out of my XC race the next day. But this wasn’t just any race—it was the Yeti Beti Bike Bash, a women’s-only race I’d heard about for years. It’s no sur­prise that moun­tain bik­ing is a bit of a sausage party, and while I do en­joy a nice meat fest, the op­por­tu­nity to race with more than 400 women wasn’t some­thing I was about to pass up.

As I rolled up in a sleep-de­prived fog, a voice shouted over the bull­horn: “First time rac­ers, ages 70 and over, you’re start­ing in two min­utes!”

Was I re­ally watch­ing an en­tire heat ded­i­cated to women whose AARP cards were old enough to drink? For a va­ri­ety of rea­sons, women’s race fields are of­ten thin enough that fin­ish­ing last can still get you a podium spot. I’ve heard folks point out the sil­ver lin­ing that small fields in­crease the chances for win­ning, but the women at the line know the truth. We’d eas­ily trade podium odds to leave in a frenzy of race num­bers all vy­ing for that top spot.

Over the morn­ing, hun­dreds of women fun­neled into filled­out heats, whether it was pro, ex­pert, sin­gle­speed or ‘new mom.’ As I com­peted against 25 other sport class women over 40, I was down­right giddy to fin­ish mid-pack amid the largest group of women I’d ever raced against—women just like me and noth­ing like me.

Later in the day, when it came time for the fi­nal cer­e­mony mark­ing the cul­mi­na­tion of 23 pro women bat­tling it out, there was a slight prob­lem. The pros were nowhere to be found.

They were busy chat­ting up dozens of the youngest rac­ers who ea­gerly asked ques­tions strad­dling bikes that were still small enough to fit into their par­ents’ trunks. Watch­ing girls go from out­liers to just an­other rider sur­rounded by a sea of women put a big­ger smile on my face than a medal ever could.

A few days later, my start line ner­vous­ness was back as I dis­cov­ered that en­duros are like down­hill races run by that buddy who some­how per­suades you to go cross-coun­try rid­ing be­tween runs. The timed down­hills were bro­ken up by 25 miles of climb­ing that ac­crued nearly 4,000 feet in el­e­va­tion. It turns out that my sum­mer of big rides paid off as I spent the day climb­ing and chat­ting with new friends while never once tast­ing any rem­nants of break­fast. A third place medal in a field of three may not mean much in the grand scheme of things, but af­ter a week of get­ting out of my com­fort zone, it’s my re­minder that fin­ish­ing last is bet­ter than be­ing too afraid to start.

BY KRISTIN BUTCHER I PHOTO: RYAN CREARY

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