The Hoo-Ha has been one of those races that has lingered in my mind for the past few years as something I wanted to do, but wasn’t actually sure I could. I knew the course was rocky and my technical skills are not the best. This year, it finally fell on a free weekend and I decided to go for it. Forget the fact that I could probably count the number of times I have been on my mountain bike this year, as I have spent most of my time on the road. To help ease myself into the main cross country race of 24 miles on Sunday, I decided to also do the Super D and Short Track events the day before. (Super D is a downhill cross country race done as an individual time trial, and short track is a very short, spectator-friendly course on which you race multiple laps.)
Beth and I arrived at the Hoo-Ha with enough time to do a pre-ride of the Super D course. “It’s a bit rocky, so you will want to figure out your line,” Beth told me. Umm yeah, ok. Figure out my line, I thought. I knew that if I previewed the course it was very likely that I would bail on the race. But we were so early, what else was I going to do?
As I started nervously into the woods it quickly became rocky. This must be what she was talking about, I thought. I was quickly off my bike, and I eyed the ground, looking for “my line.” I continued on, and around each bend I thought to myself, no this must be it, no THIS must be it. Then, I finally found it. It was three masses of giant flat boulders creating enormous steps. Oh, I am NOT doing this race, I thought. Normally, I would be ok walking a section of a race, but I really didn’t want to get in everyone’s way.
At this point, I pretty much just wanted to go home. I felt totally in over my head with this stupid 3.75 mile race that barely involved pedaling. However, as the race was getting started, they announced that you could position yourself in the field based on how fast you thought you would be. That meant that I did not have to start with the Expert women where I would surely get in the way of all the sport men. I instantly got my bike out of Beth’s car and stared getting ready. My second run was MUCH better than my first. It wasn’t particularly impressive, but I did it. My time was terrible, but I knew it would be and I did not care. I have come a long way on my downhills, and I know that I still have lots of room to improve. That really isn’t a terrible thing.
With the Super D completed, Short Track was the next of the day’s events. The Women’s Pro/Expert race wasn’t until 4:00, so I had a few hours to kill. Beth was done for the day so she dropped me and my camping gear off at an almost shady spot I had scoped out, and she headed home. I set up my camping spot, wandered around, ate, and chatted with people for the next few hours. I debated skipping the event to save my legs for the XC, but since I was stuck at the race without a car until Sunday without much to do, I figured I might as well do something, and that something might as well be a race.
There isn’t really much to report about the Short Track race itself. We went around and around on the hot, dusty, half-mile course for 12 minutes and then 2 laps. It was pretty fun. I narrowly escaped being lapped, so I considered that a success. I was 4th out of 5, and for some reason I thought there were more starters, so I was called to my default podium spot by surprise. I stuck around to watch the Men’s Pro/Expert race, which was very cool to watch.
XC – The main event!
After spending all day Saturday at the race, I wasn’t really nervous anymore. That was until I started looking at my map while I ate breakfast. The Super D course was on the XC course, so I expected that it was a good indicator of the rockiness of the rest of the course. I felt pretty good on the technical sections, but two laps of that? 24 miles? I tried not to think about it.
I made my way up to the start where I joined my teammates, and lined up under the Pro/Expert sign. Pretty soon, we were off. I went out WAY too hard on the first climb which seemed like it took FOREVER. I do not know what I was thinking. The first lap was just plain hard, and not knowing the course did not make it easier. I had no idea how long the climbs were, or where the difficult spots were going to be, and I felt like I was getting passed constantly by the Men’s classes, which was a little annoying. At times, I wasn’t even sure how I would manage a second lap, but I tried not to think about it.
The second lap was much nicer however. Nice and quiet with the whole trail to myself. It even felt cooler. But when I am alone, I slowwww downnnn. I just kind of went along at my own pace and enjoyed it. I knew that the people behind me would be catching up on the technical sections and downhills, but I was pretty confident in my ability to climb faster and hold my position. Every once in a while I would spot a woman ahead of me, but each time, she quickly disappeared.
The race finished on the Short Track course, so it was very familiar and very fast. Flying into the finish felt amazing. As I rode through the berms I realized that I was about to complete a race I was always intimidated by, and I just couldn’t be happier. I knew I didn’t have a shot at podium, but I also knew I was about mid-pack in the Pro/Expert class, and that was more than enough to make me feel good about my finish. As it turns out, I finished 7th out of 10 finishers (14 starters), which I was quite happy about since I am a newbie “expert” and it was a competitive field over a difficult course.