It was the night before the big dayFebruary 2, 2012
It was the night before the big day of meeting my girls and only 7 hours before Adam and I were to jump in the Sho-Air van and make our way to Vail Lake for the 12 hours of Temecula. Excited does not even describe what I was feeling about finally meeting the four individuals that I knew on paper and having the whole experience unfold, but I would be lying if I said that the feeling of dread was not wrestling with my excitement as I stared at the weather forecast.
Last November, at the 12 hours of Temecula, the racers were greeted with a blessing of rain that was determined to have its way and after only 8 or 9 hours of racing the rain won as Jason Ranoa was forced to make the decision of calling the race. Fortunately, I was not there to experience this, but when my phone read - 100% chance of rain - I had the feeling that my time was coming and we were going to experience a repeat of the past.
As we rolled into the race venue early Saturday morning, we were welcomed with a light rain and freezing temperatures (freezing in my book anyway). The other half of our official pit crew, my teammate Cody Phillips, was waiting, full of energy and already roaring to go as he was running around in his shorts.
We immediately began the set-up and the girls slowly began appearing and it was like meeting your favorite characters of a book as they walked right off of the pages. I could have closed my eyes, heard their voices and before they had a chance to introduce themselves, I would have been calling them by name.
The unloading of the van began and while we carrying our first load over to the pit, there was Elizabeth walking right towards us. She was my quiet and reserved one, a ton on her mind, but not feeling the comfort of yet revealing it. But, with no hesitation she began working and helping to set up our pit. She was not going to get away easy though on being silent because I was going to keep bugging her until she finally cracked...and eventually it worked.
As I walked back to the van and was ready to open the door, I looked up and saw a young girl with her dad walking towards me and I immediately knew it was my crew from Maine, and sure enough, it was. Just as I had expected, this little firecracker was overflowing with excitement and her happiness was contagious. And if you ever heard of stories of things that were just meant to be, wait until you hear this one.
Ellen's family has a business and her dad just so happened to have a meeting in Michigan on that Thursday before the race, followed by a convention the week after the race in Las Vegas. On top of that coincidence, her grandparents from Maine, just so happened to have a vacation planned with their two friends from Maine in yup, you guessed it, Southern California, during that very same week of the race. So, all day, our tent was full of people from Maine. Oh, I almost forgot, not only was Ellen the racer for the day, her mom decided to jump in on the 6 hour solo while she was there....a family of racers, I love it!
The set-up continued and now with so many hands and help from Jason Ranoa (Race Director), we were just about set when little Ksenia and her mom Marina walked up. All the way from Boulder and landing on California soil only 10 hours prior, you could see they were a little run down, but nothing was going to stop this little speed racer. She was the silent one that looks so innocent and sweet, but when you put two wheels and pedals beneath her...you better watch out. This was one had a permanent smile and although she was jumping up and down with excitement, the exhilaration was beaming in her eyes.
And then there was Camila. If anyone took me a little by surprise, it was this one. This little girl was probably the newest to our sport, but if you sat back and watched her, she was so focused and thought out every detail. She could not have been more thankful, appreciative and excited about the whole experience and both her family and two coaches that made the drive all the way from Chula Vista made that very clear.
The time was ticking away and with an hour before race start, we had our first little team meeting, introduction, handing out of all their goodies and finally the deciding of our team rotation. Just as I anticipated, there was no worry about lack of volunteering, but just as anticipated, it was Camila who was jumping out of her seat to go first, second was going to be Ksenia, followed by Ellen, who would be handing of to Elizabeth and then me. (I claimed going last before anyone else had a chance too!)
With about 5 minutes to the gun going off, we all headed to watch Camila start the day. With only 30 seconds left and no sight of her, my heart began racing and I was not sure what to do, but when the 10 second count down began, the Team ShoAir jersey came and yellow Oakley's came into view and we were on our way.
Back at the pit, everything was falling into place and everyone was taking on their roles. We had Crazy Cody at the bike stand, making sure each bike was in working order and ready to roll, while Coach Adam was well,...being coach. He could be found next to the trainer making sure each of the girls were taken care of and well warmed up before heading out. These girls could not have had it any better.
There was never a dull moment in the pit, believe it or not. Between Tom Noble, grandpa and firecracker Ellen, they always had me rolling. There was one moment that was hilarious and maybe it was one of those had to be their moments, but I will share it with you anyway. Ellen was on the trainer warming up as Adam was barking orders at her and out of nowhere she stops pedaling and screams out, "oh my god, I am sweating like an animal!" as she begins ripping her layers off. It was hilarious and exactly how the rest of our day played out.
With the weather beginning to cooperate and the sun playing peek-a-boo with the clouds, a perfect day for racing was beginning to develop. It was warming up (even though I was still cold!), the dirt was super tacky and fast, and the course could not have been any more fun. While I was out there, I felt like I was on a roller coaster ride and I could not get the smile off of my face.
As I had mentioned from day one of putting this contest on, my intention was not to put together the fastest team that I could find, but if didn't know that, you would have thought that being speedy was my goal. Athletes and competitors are what each of these girls are, even if they try to tell you otherwise, and nothing but the win was on their minds. The average lap times that these girls were pulling off was between 45-46 minutes and I was feeling the heat. Not to mention the fact that Mr. Noble (Ellen's dad) made every point to not put any pressure on me as he reminded me that we were only 5 minutes behind first as I was rolling out on my first lap!
I realize that 45-46 minutes does not give you any perspective, so to give you a little understanding of what these times mean, Tinker pulled the fastest lap for the boys at 35 minutes and I managed to pull the fastest lap for the girls with 38 minutes. These girls were moving.
Before we knew it, the night was getting ready to engulf us and it was time for lights. Most of the girls have never raced, let alone ridden at night, but we had them well taken care of. Before each of them were about to head out on their lap of the night, we rolled them over to Tommy from Night Rider and he set them up with the bestest and brightest of lights so that they would never be able to see the blackness of the sky that looked down upon them. As they each rolled through on completion of their night laps, there was a permanent grin on their face and they had fallen in love with their bike...again.
The first night lapper was Camila and when she came through, she could barely breathe, but I knew she had a blast out there, it was written all over her face. She told me that she went down on one of the descents, but of course, she got right back up without even thinking twice.
Next off was Ellen and she was contemplating how much clothes was enough or too much to wear as she was fumbling through her suitcase of stuff. Things were flying everywhere, pairs of gloves, socks and warmers were missing and I her mom let us know that this is exactly how it is in her room at home. She finally made a decision, borrowed some leg warmers and she was off.
As I mentioned that there was never a dull moment with this one, Ellen rolled through as she finished her last lap and had jackets tied around her waste and things hanging everywhere. She began explaining to us how she got so hot out there and couldn't take it anymore, so she stopped and began ripping things off. If I had to guess, she was probably sweating like an animal again.
Then there was little Ksenia. Even with coming into this race with a little cold that she had been fighting all week, there was never a complaint from her. She always knew exactly what she had to do and did it with her mom right alongside taking care of her as she was snapping photos of every moment. When she rolled through her final lap, she was beyond enthused and told me how much she thoroughly loved the opportunity and appreciated it so much. At one point, when Ksenia was out riding, her mom looked at me and said that Ksenia told her that her goal was to be on Team ShoAir.
It was 15 minutes before Elizabeth was getting ready to roll out on her first night ride of her life and the team's final lap of the day. I took one look at her, told her to not go anywhere and ran over to my van to grab clothes, a lot of clothes. The poor girl had a base layer, a jersey and light gloves on as she was heading out into darkness and I was not going to let that happen. I was not riding and I had on 4 jackets, boots, gloves, pants and a beanie on and I was still freezing! I began throwing my clothes on her and she had this huge smile on her face as she looked at her dad and told him, "take a picture of me dad, I look like a pro!"
When she finally rolled through the finish, being that she is not one to show emotion, I was not exactly sure what to think, but through her exhaustion she looked up and said that is was so much fun, "but I have to admit that I was pretty scared." The concern immediately left, especially when she continued and said that if she did it 4 more times, she would be fine.
After 12 hours of racing, team ShoAir walked away with a 2nd place in the Open 5-person Category, only seconds behind a team of older men. Who by the way, had no regret on beating a bunch of young girls!
It is hard to put my experience into words and this little blog does not do it much justice. All I know is that what this adventure turned out to be was more than I could have ever expected. To see the look on these girls faces, to get to know them, to share a little bit of our sport with them and create friendships that will last forever, this was exactly what it was all about. I only hope that these girls walked away with as much as I did and had just as much fun as I did.
Thank you to everyone that helped me to make this happen. Of course, Team ShoAir for showing your support, hooking us up with the van and all of the goodies to help make our girls look so professional! Thank you so much to Jason Ranoa for supporting my little dream, helping it to come alive and helping us out at the race while cheering us on. He truly puts on a great event, thinks about each of his racers and sets up a phenomenal course, you truly need to check it out if you already haven't. Blick! Thank you so much to you and Oakley for your support. The girls were rocking their eyewear and I wish you could have seen them squeal with excitement as they pulled their glasses out of their cases! Nat Ross! Heyo! Thank you so much to you and Fizik for their comfy saddles, now they have no excuse and can just focus on their pedaling! John Gamble, thank you so much for the EP-NO, the girls were so excited and could not wait to begin trying it out. Matt from the SoCal League, thank you so much for all of your support and helping to spread the word and reach out to the girls out there. You do such an amazing thing and it is so fun to see it grow. Of course I can't forget Tommy from NiteRider for lighting up the girls path! Thank you so much for helping them out, making them feel comfortable and showing them what awesome lights were like! And of course, thank you to everyone else out there who cheered my girls on and supported us, you guys rock!
And lastly, I could never forget these two. Crazy Cody, thank you so much for taking the day to give back and help these girls out and making sure their bikes were functioning properly (and my bike!). And of course, Coach Adam. It was so awesome that this worked out coincidentally and you were in town to experience this, be a part of the team, help watch out for the girls and their bikes, and share your knowledge. I really appreciate you taking the time out to do that and the girls really appreciated it too.
Oh and one more...two more actually! Thank you so much to my friend Hans and Marina (Ksenia's mom) for taking photos and sharing them with me! I appreciate it!