There's nothing like a little "Hometown Throwdown"! No matter how well you know your local trails, no matter how many time you ride them a week, the pressure of a race on home turf is intense.
Did I mention KickStand Coffee & Kitchen was also holding registration on Friday and the biggest after-party/Hip-hop show of the year for Hood River on Saturday. Not to mention the ladies' pre-ride on Wednesday and "Course Preview" shuttle from Dirty Fingers next door on Thursday. As we prepped not only to race that week, we were also prepping the restaurant -- I've never seen so many kegs of beer in one place, let alone refrigerators stocked so completely full by end of day Friday.
Hood River is for me, always the race of the year. For 2018, trails were dry and loose, full of PNW renown Post Canyon "Ball Bearings" (super slick). Last year's Eagle Creek Fire came a little to close to this backyard playground-- a fire line was introduced down one of the two ridge lines in order to save the area from total destruction. In the process, this destroyed a handful of trails, which just happened to be brought back to life just before the race this year. This was exciting as a handful of trails were brand new, or had new features, meaning a more even race across the board. The air was full of nervous energy as this was our first stateside race of the year, and a good one to see how the gym served us over the winter.
Needless to say, I found speed where I never thought I could gain speed, connected little airs and walked away with the "W" and a margin of over a minute. Stoked! Nick took the win as well, making it a good day to be a Hardin! As soon as podiums were over, we rallied to KickStand to make sure all was set for the after-party: red-carpet entry, live music, accessory outside bar, and plenty of burgers. We may or may not have ended up working until midnight, but wouldn't have done without a shuttle with friends the next day. What a weekend!
Off to the next race!
"No, no, no, don't ride there," they said. "It's not safe. I don't even ride there."
Back in Medellin, Colombia, we were struggling. Pico y Plata, a new driving restriction policy in Colombia (aimed at reducing traffic congestion), kept us from driving our truck between 6 and 9am, and 5 and 8pm on various days, making it difficult to travel outside of the city. Inner-city, traffic was so heavy that it would take an hour to go 2 miles (via car). Locals instructed us that many inner-city tracks were unsafe as they ended in the ghetto, or started in a sketchy area of town where we were told "I've been mugged there twice -- my bike was stolen, and everything of value on me." Needless to say, we weren't super inspired to check out the tracks.
We knew there was good riding in the area, and upon reaching out to the local riding community, got lucky and linked up with Sueltele Bike Tours of Medellin, as well as local ripper, Daniel Arredondo for a few days of shredding.
Turns out a a handful of other EWS athletes had the same idea, and we had ourselves a fun shuttle posse for a few days.
A few Kiwis, a few Canadians, a Colombian and some Americans at the top of a mountain...
Freestylin' Traida 1 & 2 ...."Aim for the house at the bottom of the hill!"
Somewhere near Medellin in your typical Colombian Terrain....
Creek crossing anyone? Just in time to wash off the cow-pies!
In the middle of the Colombian jungle...
Finishing up the Colombian National DH Track....
Don't forget your aloe vera...Dakine Grippers make good aloe holders.
After a couple days of riding, we decided to cap off the trip with a spontaneous 24 hour trip to Cartagena, because when in Rome... (not to mention round-trip flights from Medellin were $40). And... we needed to do some proper South America coffee and food R&D. A whirlwind of a day treated us to the best ceviche we've ever had, some beautiful architecture and lots of history.
Back to Medellin to pack our bikes, and it was back to the States!
See you in the PNW,
When we first heard the EWS was headed to Colombia, we knew we had to go. We'd raced in Chile and Argentina before, but never in the jungle proper. We'd been told to expect rad trails, steep with good dirt, but slick as hell if it rained. And rain it did...
We arrived to Medellin, Colombia early morning Monday, the week of the race. A city built straight out of the jungle, Medellin is full of rich culture, including that of Pablo Escobar and his cocaine industry. While once the murder capital of the world, Medellin is much safer than it used to be, although not quite safe enough to truly "freestyle" -- more on this later. Back to racing....
7 hours and 190km later, we arrived in Manizales, a small mountain town that we would call home for the next week. Over the next few days as we waited for practice to start (Friday), we caught up with friends, toured the city, got familiar with Colombian dirt (on a local coffee plantation), and did a little track walking.
Friday came and so did practice for stages 2-8... tracks were SICK. Nothing technical or overly steep. Just fun, flowy tracks through the jungle. Very little climbing on the tracks themselves, outside of stage 7 with a mega punch in the middle. Stage 5 was a favorite amongst racers -- a tunnel through vegetation leading to the steepest pitch of the day. So rad! Stage 4 and 6 were a such muddy mess our wheels stopped turning in practice. We had our fingers crossed that the tracks dried out over the next few days, but the weather report didn't look too promising. Especially since we were in Colombia during the rainy season.... (think afternoon downpours).
Saturday: URBAN DH Race Day!
Saturday morning came quickly -- we loaded up the car, and headed over for our "inspection" lap of the urban DH course, follow quickly by our race run. What a crazy first stage of the year -- over 20,000 spectators came out to watch the race and cheer us on. Streets were packed with people! It was the most amazing two and a half minutes, pinning it down stairs and off curbs, while experiencing the people of Manizales.
As soon as the race ended, the rain began... and it didn't stop until mid morning Sunday. Just in time for us to start Day 2.
In typical "Enduro Wet Series" fashion, Saturday started as a wet one. Stages 4 and 6 were wet enough during practice, that we couldn't even fathom what the tracks were like that day. Oh well...it's all about the experience, right? Oh yeah, and trying to go fast...
Turns out we don't ride in the mud well. We knew we were coming to Colombia in the rainy season, and generally don't ever ride in the mud (for fear of being exiled from our local Hood River community -- lots of trail damage!). And we knew that chances were we were going to be racing in the mud... we just didn't know that this mud was actually closer to "peanut butter" or "freeze thaw", think mud that sticks to everything. And I mean everything. But why stay in our comfort zones? Might as well see what we can do, be humbled, and have a rad day in the woods with friends on bikes, on some of the best track Colombia has to offer. Sounded good to us!
Needless to say, as predicted, I ran most of stage 2, and all of stage 4 as my wheels completely stopped turning too many times to count. You know it's bad when everyone clips their fenders before dropping into the first stage, and you're running/slipping/falling alongside 8 other women in your category. Normally, you don't see anyone -- okay, maybe one person, but to see 8, and to all be flailing about in the mud, is pretty hilarious and speaks to the sort of situation we were dealing with. At one point, likely whilst cursing the mud as I was trying to pick up my bike to "run" up a hill, my bike fell to the ground, about 60# heavier, loaded with mud. From the sidelines, our friend Marco Osborne yelled, "Keep a positive attitude!", while my amazing lady friend, Teal yelled to me "Stay on your bike!" and that became the theme of the day. After awhile, it became funny, and ladies and gents were passing/getting passed while seat bouncing and full-bore squidding down tracks. Key was to keep your bike moving, and keep momentum -- if you stopped, you were likely to never get started again. It was downright entertaining, and by the end of the last stage, we were exhausted and happy to finish the day in one piece before the downpour started again. Phew! While not proud of our results, we were proud to have finished the day, and put in a strong effort, despite being no bueno at riding (or running) in peanut butter mud.