Some races result in a lot of stories. Bear Creek Challenge was one of those races. I knew it would be as soon as I saw someone pull up in a fire engine with their bike on top.
Over the past few years I have heard a lot about Bear Creek and how hard it is. As it turns out, it is ALL TRUE. Not that I didn’t think it was true, I was just kind of hoping that I was a good enough rider by now that maybe it wouldn’t seem like such a big deal. I had even just raced Blackwater Classic the weekend before, so I was ready for rocks! Right?
Wrong. Bear Creek was much harder than I even expected. There were more rocks, bigger rocks, smaller rocks, harder rocks, sharper rocks, and rounder rocks. When the rocks stopped, there were steep climbs, gradual climbs, long climbs, and longer climbs. There were also switchbacks. Rocky ones, soft ones, and ones that went down and straight back up again.
It was also HOT. In the middle of July, 86 degrees might seem cool and refreshing, but I spent last weekend in western Maryland and West Virginia, bundled up in sweatshirts and debating racing in arm warmers. I was not exactly prepared for heat. I killed 72 ounces of my Camelback in less than 2 hours, which left me with about 30 minutes of no water. Luckily, they changed us to 2 laps instead of three at the request of the racers and due to the impending thunderstorms. Otherwise, I would have had to take a race detour to the water fountain in the lodge.
At the start, I got hung up in some gravel and ended up at the back of the pack. I think the only reason I didn’t go down in all my fishtailing was because the gravel was so deep it was holding my wheels in a vertical position. I was determined to go into the woods in a good position (which I failed to do last weekend) so I sprinted my way back up to 5th place. I held that spot for a solid 3 minutes. As soon as we entered the woods I was a total train wreck. Quite literally in fact. We were a train of people and I kept wrecking. My heart rate was red-lined and I was nervous, making for a terrible combination. I think I crashed 3 times in the first mile of singletrack, and we weren’t even on the hard stuff yet. I was quickly back in last place. I was totally “that girl you don’t want to be stuck behind.”
Luckily, I got all my crashing in early on before the rocks started, and I was eventually able to settle in and ride like I almost knew what I was doing and stayed upright the rest of the race. I would generally catch the group on the climbs, or at least close the gap, but as soon as we hit the rocks, I just wasn’t fast enough in the technical sections. The first lap felt like it went on forever, but I just focused on riding my own ride, and not worrying too much about everyone else. I could only go as fast as I could go through the rocks upon rocks. I had to run some sections, but I also managed to ride some pretty wild looking stuff, so I consider that success.
The second lap was much better. I was more relaxed and knew what was coming. I was more efficient through the rocks, and I tried to stay strong on the climbs. I rode sections of the climbs where I knew people would be walking, since they already were on the first lap. Every once in a while I would spot some women ahead, which was motivating to know that I wasn’t terribly far off the back. It was also comforting to know that their faces looked a lot like how I imagined mine to be, and that the course was being just as mean to them. I think a 3rd lap would have only been to my advantage. Maybe I could have caught a women or two, but no part of me really wanted to find out. I was happy with our shortened race distance.
When I was finished, I couldn’t quite decide if I never wanted to ride there ever again, or go back as soon as possible. Now that I have had plenty of time to recover from the physical and emotional beating, I am ready to make a trip back.