A dusty mouth hangs open wide, desperately gasping to fill asthmatic lungs. It’s all in vain. A lack of oxygen deprives the legs of necessary life force, everything begins to slow down, everything begins to fatigue.
And then the mind follows the body into a downward spiral.
On the flip side, there’s something in there, something deeper. I don’t believe in miracles, but there’s a thing that, God help me, I believe you can tap into, you can harness it, it can save you in your most dire of circumstances.
I’ve found it so many times in my life… when I felt I couldn’t go on, when I felt I was done, time to pull out of the game, time to give up.
I have no idea what it is.
A voice inside you that tells you not to give up? A primal instinct to keep fighting, to keep charging forward? The love inside you for the people you know, the people that count on you, are counting on you, believe in you… I’m not just talking about bike racing here… I’m talking about life.
There’s some inexplicable thing within me that won’t let me give up the ship, no matter how big the waves get, no matter how rough the seas are… no matter how badly I want to let the arms of the ocean wrap around me, pull me down from the raging storm above, to be peaceful in the depths of blue and black… quiet, blissful darkness that lasts forever…
You can never give up the ship.
The truth is, the worse the storm is, the more I want to charge into battle against it. The more my head tells me to pull out and give up, the more I want to keep going, just to show myself I can.
F****n’ Sea Otter.
Pretty sure I was waiting by my computer the second they opened reg for it last fall. Pretty sure I was the first pro woman signed up. I was so stoked on that race.
Then I flip-flopped on whether or not I’d do the race at all. Finances to get out to Cali weren’t looking optimistic, I was wondering if it was a waste of my time to go try and race west coast again, after my miserable attempt at Nats last summer. But Sea Otter wasn’t at 9k feet, and there was something always inside me that wanted to be there, wanted to go…
I ended up finding a ridiculously cheap package deal for flight and dirtbag motel that made it a real thing with about a month to go. With generous help from friends & sponsors, it was going to happen, I was going to Cali to race Sea Otter after all.
And then the week before it, like Murphy’s Law, I got sick. I immediately went to urgent care and got antibiotics, but they only kept it from spreading and getting worse, I remained mildly sick all the way into the Saturday of the race.
Rewind. Tuesday before the race I’m scrambling to get everything done for a Wednesday departure. Bike is getting packed by the rad and wonderful dudes at Bicycle Tech in Lincoln Park, one of my amazing sponsors. I have 30 things to do before the night is over and I’m running around like a crazy person. I end up working until after 2am because I don’t even get to start packing until almost 11. Wake up on Wednesday, do some maintenance work, wrap up all the packing loose ends, and I’m in the car driving to EWR. Problem with airport parking. Delays delays delays. I’m finally on the plane. Window seat, blast off.
I land late, but I’m already on Cali time from a week of being up ridiculously late back east. 10pm seems like 10pm. I get convenience store snacks, a beer, and I’m in bed. Not sleeping, but in bed at least.
I don’t sleep. Not at all.
Thursday schedule called for a fun, mellow group ride with Hans Rey, facilitated by my NJ bff, Jeff Lenosky (who is responsible for a large portion of my ability to ride a bike at all, thanks Jeff!). Breathtaking California scenery, super rad guys, fast enough to be interesting. Followed this by laps of the Pro XCT course.
Course was dry, loose, off-camber weirdness. Not like the mountain biking I’m used to, but it was smooth and easy and not a thing to hold a girl back. Go-time. The rock garden was a fun treat, found a dope line straight down the middle that launched like a ramp off a massive rock. Perfect beast coast line. Practiced that a bit. Then dinner then sleep… well… then trying to sleep.
Another restless, near-sleepless night and back to the venue for MOAR race laps. Hooked up with some pro dudes for these and banged out a solid two at an easier pace. Noodled around the venue a bunch. Ate a bunch. Drank a bunch. Scored some Skratch Labs rescue hydration mix to prep for the race. Nerves were starting to kick in. Left the venue, ate dinner, back to motel, had my first actual night of sleep in days, a solid 9h.
Woke up at 5am, forced myself back to sleep until 7. Jumped out of bed. Nervous excitement in full effect. Feeling ready to go. Roll over to venue and warm up. Legs feel good. Body feels good. Ready. To. Go.
The call-ups start later than expected, there’s a crash on the course delaying things a bit. NBD. Spin around, drink water, try and contain the excitement. Soooo darn stoked. Feeling good.
We all line up, waiting to be called. Finally I hear my name. There I am, being called up at one of the biggest races of the year. So stoked, so ready. Focused on the line, caught a good spot.
We go off. The pace is surprisingly doable and I fly up the right hand side, close to the barrier to get around all the chicks in my way. Flying up the climb, feeling good… and then….
Like lightning is hitting me. Like the world is falling apart.
I feel my airways start to constrict. Is it the dust? Is it because I’ve been sick? The antibiotics? Trying not to panic, trying not panic… I start to hemorrhage places, I start to panic. The rush of adrenaline spikes my heart rate, exacerbating the asthma attack. I’m panicking. This is worst case scenario shit right here. My legs feel amazing but I can’t ******* breathe.
I lose spots, so many spots. I fall way back. I am in absolute despair. This isn’t happening. Not today, please, not today.
But it is happening and there’s not a GD thing I can do about it. I don’t have a rescue inhaler with me. I have nothing. I plug on. I feel my pace slow down, so much slower than I know I’m capable of. My mind starts to play games with me: “quit.” “you won’t recover from this.” “it’s over.”
And yet, there’s no way on God’s green Earth that I’m not going to keep going until someone tells me to stop. I came thousands of miles for this race. I take solace in the fact that at my current pace I’ll be pulled sooner than later. I plug on.
Then something weird happens, going into the third lap, I see chicks ahead of me. Something twists in my brain. I feel nothing. I still can’t breathe but I don’t care. The desperation and panic become tolerable, manageable. I charge at them. I grind my teeth and charge past them. Then I keep going. A gap opens, a bigger gap, then they’re gone. Then I see MOAR chicks. I charge them, I pass them, they’re gone. I see more, but it’s getting harder to pass them, and yet I am passing them. I’m watching through tunnel vision. Lap 4 happens… I can’t believe it… not pulled at lap 4?? Keep going, closing in and passing, getting passed again, back and forth, time ticks away. I pass the finish line into lap 5… am I seriously doing a 5th lap?? How am I not getting pulled? I lose the girl who was just in front of me, out of water, totally shot, still can’t breathe… but I know everyone behind me has been pulled by now. There’s nobody left, I’m racing myself.
And then I finish. Head down, hands in the middle of the bars, TTing it to the line. I finish. 15min back from 1st, not pulled, not lapped. After all that, after all the pain and gasping and panicking and mental turmoil… I’m done and well, for only riding a bike for 3 years, I’m pretty ******* ****** ****** proud of how it turned out.
But there will always be a “what if…” in my mind, and that’s where we go from here. I’m now painfully aware of what I need to do…
I seriously need to get this asthma nonsense in check. Unacceptable BS to be dealing with and utterly negligent on my part. People have gone above and beyond for me, and if they’re going to do that, I have to do my part. I don’t want to have excuses, bad days, and “what if” scenarios… I want to be able to say I gave it everything I could. I can’t say that about Sea Otter, and it will plague my mind forever.
The (not so) funny thing about the whole situation is that I stopped taking all of my asthma medication in June of 2015 because for some reason I got it into my head that it was on the banned substance list and I was afraid of accidentally cheating. So for the last year I’ve been toughing out bad days, thinking that I’m hardcore and doing something honest. I came home from Sea Otter and did a little further investigation to find that my long-term asthma controlling medicine, Asmanex, is actually allowed, as well as my Pro-Air rescue inhaler. So I could have been using these for the past year — Could have been using them at Nationals last summer, probably would have helped with the altitude. Could have used them at Windham when I was dying and gasping up the dusty climbs. Could have used them at Sea Otter to prevent that entire ordeal, who knows what would have happened…. I could have been preventing bad days instead of gritting my teeth and grueling through them.
So I suppose the take away is this: Don’t give up the ship, ever…. However, it’s a lot easier to stay with a ship that floats, so repair your effin ship when it’s broken!! Don’t be an idiot, don’t be tough. Do your homework, be prepared.
My coach says a thing, “Be ready. Stay ready.”
Here’s some pics from California!! Next stop, Kenda Cup East #1 in Farmington, CT!