Ensconced in Baja's wine country the sun settled into its slumber as I looked over this foreign machine. A 2019 Specialized Epic, a size too small, without pedals. Unless I wanted this most recent adventure into Mexico to be doomed I'd better get familiar with this machine. I was due at the Pro Field starting line in less than 12 hours. It dawned on me that I'd be busy far past dusk.
Racers gotta race. Feeling good about your fitness? Race. Feeling like you've fallen short recently? Race. Lost your identity? Race. Much like an NBA shooter, a PGA golfer, and a Olympian gymnast the activity that turned to profession speaks to your soul. When that conversation goes dark, we've got to keep communicating. I found myself in this uncomfortable space after the 2023 USAC MTB Marathon National Championship race in late September. Returning as the current National Champion I rolled a lighthearted wheelie to the start line as first call-up with the intention of repeating my victory and as a damn fool I fell short. After much evaluation I could point to a few technical, mechanical, and travel woes. I could aim higher and admit my heart wasn't engaged at the necessary level. I could even piss and moan about...No. No pissing or moaning. The purest form of riding, for me, happens on a race course. No interruptions. No riding to a schedule. No nonsense. From gunshot to finish line my effort determines my fate. I lost Nationals. I promised myself the result wouldn't define me as I already met my year's ultimate goal. I was wrong. Even after hosting the Sedona DtD Camp, complete with a sound healing group activity, my dark identity writhed beneath my jovial veneer. Without a clear solution I found myself in holding, hovering, waiting for something.
His text asked me about that one race we heard about in that one place from Brad that one time. I knew exactly what he was talking about. His text came through early Sunday evening as I sat behind my dad at his favorite watering hole in Phoenix, watching the opening quarter of Sunday Night Football. Brian had been asking me about my 2024 race season and if this unknown race was going to be a part of it. October 9th and he's building his 2024 calendar. He and nearly every committed bike racer begins to look for the coming year's structure so a plan can be set in place. A plan that becomes our guiding light, our energy source, and our life's mission. In my darkness I hadn't been looking to 24 and I still had a few scheduled events in 2023 yet to go, but I could shoot Brad a text.
Sunday 10/9 @ 6PM: Brian to Me - What was that race that Brad Keyes said we had to do?
Me to Brian -
Me to Brad - What was that Mexico race you said we had to do? Thinking for 2024.
Brad to Me - This coming weekend, Ensenada 100K! (with link)
Me to Brian - (link)
Brian to Me - Haha is that this weekend? Wait, that is Ensenada. It's only like a day drive.
Me to Brian - Hmmm...carpool? It's Abbe's birthday and our wedding anniversary...
Me to Brad - Amigo, Abbe and I's anniversary and her birthday on Sunday...and I'm still making it work! Brian coming too. What do you think about that?
Brad to Me - Do it! I've got an AirBnB close to start but can grab a bigger one.
Me to Abbe - (2 pics of beach) Any interest in flying back to PHX on Friday, driving to Mexico, a little bike race for me, and then a proper celebration of our anniversary and your bday?
Abbe to Me - No, too much for me. (She was still on the tarmac in PHX going back to DEN after Sedona camp).
Me to Abbe - Haha, no doubt. Me too. Just distracting you from Frontier woes.
Abbe to Me - Actually...my Fall Break is the following week, hahaha.
Me to Abbe - F!! Okay, okay. Plan! I fly you in on Friday and we drive to Mexico and stay through Tuesday!
Abbe to Me - Ha!! Yep! Just LMK.
Me to Brian - I booked Abbe a flight, you roll in Thursday. Hey, bring Abbe a birthday gift.
Sunday 10/9 @ 9:05PM: Me to Brad - F***ing done. We are in. I'll register.
Racers gotta race.
Adventurers gotta adventure.
...and as my wrist tattoo reminds me: peligro en la demora.
The travel, logistics, and prep flowed as if ordained by Atalanta (Greek Goddess of the hunt, travel, and adventure). I traded the giant DtD Shuttle Van for my dad's 4x4 pickup, Brian brought a tailgate pad from Moab Cyclery, and we were outside Arrivals with a hot coffee and breakfast burrito for Abbe buzzing with excitement. Now, I'm not too sure I told Abbe that Brian was coming. Matter of factly, I didn't. I didn't want to risk her thinking it was another case of being strung along on a guy's bike trip so when she smiled wide and tossed arms around Brian for an excited hug I knew we were dialed. 5 hours later when we crossed the US/MX border in Mexicali to a simple nod and wave, I knew we were dialed. After a couple of u-turns and texts to Brad while looking for the venue in Valle de Guadalupe we followed his CarboRocket van into the parking lot right on time for packet pickup, dialed. Baja Ultra Endurance 100K presented by Bajadventours.
A required bike and helmet check marked a first in my racing career. When they took my Allied BC40 over to a mechanic stand I stood by easily as Brad hollered jokingly after them, "be sure to check his bottom bracket!" 2 minutes later the mechanic returned. "We have a problem with your bottom bracket." Brad shrank a couple sizes and gazed downward. Bad Brad.
They labeled my bike unrideable. I pleaded with them to let it pass but came up short on all 3 attempts. Even though I'd been successfully riding in Moab, Sedona, Cave Creek, and Phoenix for the past 2 weeks, they warned their trails were steep, rocky, and technical. Too much for me to risk riding a compromised bike. I jettisoned all urges to show them videos of Moab, Sedona, and Cave Creek. I submitted to the reality that I was without a bike and we were 12 hours from a darkness-eliminating race event. Just as I began drifting to a day's plan sans racing, the Baja thing happened.
Read the previous post to better understand this: The people in Baja are the kindest, most hospitable, and welcoming people on the planet. Inside an hour I was offered a Specialized Epic with the request to swap my wheels over as the owner was trying to sell the bike at this event. I can do that. "Take the bike and enjoy your race," he said. I can do that. Later that night as I swapped over wheels, adjusted seat and cockpit, and set suspension, I thought: I can do this. For all the finger pointing I could've done after Nationals I had resolved then to own the outcome and I promised to do the same here in Mexico. It's a bike. I'm a bike racer. The equation is simple.
I didn't roll a lighthearted wheelie to the start line. I stayed in race mode. I sprinted around the venue doing my openers. I hopped off the bike and did my off-bike activation work. I nodded to Abbe and looked toward the newly breaking dawn sky. Heavy fog blanketed the hills we'd soon be attacking and much like the many days we spent in Baja just 10 months earlier I felt a deep appreciation for the bike and the adventures it brings.
The race was hard. The course a real MTB challenge. My effort? Pure. I pushed myself around blind corners on foreign trails. I smiled as I sweat and I didn't have a single dark moment. We chased each other over steep double track climbs and down twisting singletrack to valley floors. At one point, the apex experience for me at the event, we crested a hill and rode atop a cliff with the Pacific to our right and the desert to our left. The roller-coaster-like trail named Rampage is reason enough for the trip to Ensenada. I finished in 5th. Brian finished in a close 2nd behind the Mexico National MTB Champion. While the event celebrated his impressive finish and we waited with ceviche tostadas for the awards I found what I had been needing after Nationals. Yes, we are our results. They are undeniable. Unemotional. They simply are. How we respond to them tells a deeper tale. I'm proud that I responded by getting back to the start line. I'm proud that in the face of the grandest of hurdles I easily swapped wheels, changed saddle height, and pressed on. This sport goes over, around, and through mountains. It's up and down. It's continuous. So I'll continue. Race on.