Its been a crazy few weeks with modeling, analyses, and writing/revising papers (one accepted-yay!, another submitted) from my dissertation research. I also wrote a new paper where I modeled physicochemical parameters for the entire Napo basin using geostatistical models (topographical kriging) to inform conservation and management plans.
I also joined a crew from Catolica University to assist in their fish, invert, and physicochemical sampling in Reserva Ecologica Antisana at 4200m!
On Thanksgiving day, the Fulbright Commission kindly put on a much welcomed turkey banquet! The spread was great, with an Ecuadorian twist on many American traditional dishes. Though there was no pumpkin pie, the 10 or so desert option (all you can eat, yikes!) more than made up for it. The only thing I missed was a traditional stuffing. They had some sort of abstract Jackson Pollock version of stuffing that was okay, but wasn’t quite the same. It was nice not to miss out my favorite holiday.
I had also been training and practicing for the Pichincha Provincial Championships that took place 11/30/2014. The course is in a wild location; only about 20km north of my house and still in the Quito Metropolitan area, but its a total desert, as opposed to the lush green landscape of central Quito! At the park near our house we might have muddy trails but just 20km up the road, its completely sandy and full of sun and cactus at Parque Equinoccial. Because of the desert nature of the park, the race course was aptly named Cactus Trail XCO.
On my first trip out there to practice the course, I was shocked at how technical and scary some of the sections were. I don’t have a lot of experience on big drops in sandy, loose soil, table tops, and pumptracks. There were also a few gnarly rock gardens for good measure, but at least we have a lot of those in the Northeast.
The two main obstacle appeared absolutely crazy at first glance, but I kept on working at them section by section and finally got them. After the pumptrack and table tops at the start of the course, you come to a crazy downhill that involves a steep switchback leading into a rocky drop, followed by an impossibly loose sandy section that leads to a ditch you have to roll/hop over, then a sandy loose 10ft drop that you have to roll with your weight way back and no brakes, then two more loose steep sections with ditches, and ending with a huge line of boulders you have to ride. The worst part is that after the second drop, you can’t really check your speed since its so loose, thus you rocket over the ditches and come flying into the rocks. No matter how many times I practiced, I always came in “hot” to the rock sections and was out of control, just barely managing to hang on and ride it out. But at least I could get after a few practice sessions. Even so, I was worried about racing such a crazy section of trail.
The next major obstacle is much shorter and appears much easier, but it actually took me longer to ride clean. It involved a steep, crazy loose section of 6-8″ deep sand following by a rocky drop that you have to roll through, passing through two huge metal posts. It was the metal posts that rattled me. If you were to wreck here, it could be really bad. For several days of practice, I was able to make my way through the nasty steep sand, only to wuss out on the last rock drop through the posts. But finally after about 20 attempts I just told myself “You have to do this!” and got it clean first try. It was actually much easier than it looked. After some more practice on the nasty steep uphills, rock gardens, and a ditch you have hop, I could ride the entire course clean and felt ready, if a bit apprehensive, about the race.
Race day came and the field was much bigger than in the Guayasamin XCO, it being the regional championship and all. It was a spectacular clear sunny day, so I knew it was going to be really hot during the race. Also, I hadn’t practiced the course in a week and the loose, technical sections had deteriorated immensely. The hard downhill was now much worse with a deep channel cut in the middle of the singletrack, making it even harder to brake. I practiced all the technical sections several times, but still couldn’t ride the downhill as slowly or in control as I would have liked. I was nervous about as we lined up at the starting line.
For some reason the organizers decided to start the Elite Women ahead of Men 30-39. This was a huge mistake. After watching the 20-29 Men and Elite Women, we started 3-4 minutes later. As usual, I was terrible off the starting line, falling into last place before gaining momentum. Once I hit a good speed though, and there was a slight incline, I pulled ahead of all but the top 4-5 riders just as we entered the table tops. I had practiced these, so I was able to get up with main pack as we headed into the dreaded downhill.
It was a total dust cloud as the first few racers went through, but I swallowed my fear and went for the A line. One of the top guys took the B line (a super fit roadie) and I was able to pull ahead of him. Unfortunately the guy right in front me crashed after the 2nd drop, and I narrowly went around him only gaining my composure a split second before going into the huge line of boulders. I flew over the boulders and caught some big air on the last one, landing hard in the flat sand below-but still upright and on my bike. I was now in 4th place as we headed into the sand pit followed by the drop through the metal posts. Unfortunately, we now caught up to the Women, and it was an absolute mess. There was a huge dust cloud limiting visibility and I narrowly avoided a girl off her bike. There was another one running the drop, so I had to dismount and run too. I felt bad for the women as we were charging right through them. I caught up to the 4th place guy right before a sandy turn, and he went down (another fit roadie-but not very skilled), giving me just enough space to squeeze past him. I held him off as we made it to 2 particularly nasty little climbs. Unfortunately there were more women off their bikes on the hill and we had to dismount. I caught up Juanito (the beast who always wins!) here briefly, but once we got around the ladies, he took off again. I held onto 3rd through the rock garden and up the entire climb, but once it flattened out, the roadie behind me retook 3rd.
As I neared the end of my first lap, I was surprised that with all the adrenaline, the technical parts had seemed easy and had really helped me get into the front. Unfortunately, after all the techincal sections and nasty climbs, it was somewhat flat and twisty, perfect for fast pedaling roadies. The other roadie caught me on this section and I was now in 5th. My heart rate climbed into the 190’s (very high for me) as I struggled to stay with him.
I held on fairly close as we got to the technical part again, and began closing the gap. At the downhill, both roadies ahead of me took the B line (they call B lines the “chicken way” here!), so I again passed the 4th place guy and got on the wheel of 3rd place again. I held this position through the technical parts, but 3rd place guy kept gaining on the hills. He disappeared ahead of me on the flats, and 5th place passed me again!
On the 3rd lap I was a little further behind 4th, but still passed him as he took the chicken way. I held him off again through the techie sections and uphills, but he got me again on the flats! AArgh! This time his superior fitness and pedaling was too much for me, and on the 4th lap, I couldn’t pass him on the downhill. I kept on him for the remainder of the 4th lap, and in sight for the 5th and final lap, but never caught back up to him. The top 5 racers were all really close this race, and I felt like I had been much more competitive than in the previous race where I took 4th. Eventually, I hope to get 3rd or better down here, maybe in a smaller race. But I was stoked to hear that they were giving medals to the top 5 and would finally get my podium pic in Ecuador!