The recovery from a 200km week at Round 1 in Corral, Chile had to be quick. We took a day to drive over the Andes the day after our rest day (I spent it laid up in bed with a cold) and had another day in Argentina to get ready for what ended up being some of the wildest days I’ve ever had on a bike.
The boys on the Santa Cruz | SRAM team headed out the day before practice to play around on some trails in the area. I stayed behind in the hopes of fighting off my disgusting cold, and when I watched their footage that afternoon, I knew right away that this event and its terrain would be WAY outside of the kind of riding I am used to (and good at). I expected it to be dusty. I expected it to be dry and loose and I fully expected it to be challenging. What I didn’t expect was to be battling the way I did all weekend long.
When practice began I think it took about one lap to realize how much my riding was going to have to change for my race results to improve from the event prior. I couldn’t touch my front brake without ending up on the ground in a giant pile of dust. I felt like a total passenger on my bike. My eyes were constantly drifting to my front wheel (bad!) and I was getting passed by everyone in practice like I wasn’t even moving. I really worked to stay positive – I expected this, and to be fair, everyone else was struggling in their own ways. But there was this thing hanging over me – it was like an extra set of 200m disc rotors slowing me down: it was fear. Fear of failure, maybe. This was terrain I knew I had the skills to figure out (I actually think that these would have felt more like blue trails had the conditions not been so challenging). I suspect, however, that the fear I was feeling was my subconscious mind’s attempt to keep me out of harm’s way.
On the afternoon of the first day of practice, I went back to what I knew worked and followed our team manager Allan around again. While chasing him on the steep and dusty stages 3 and 1 helped a ton, I couldn’t help but notice that I could often see him way out in front of me, with more than enough time to literally slow down and turn fully around to look at me while riding. Meanwhile, I was gripped on my bike in full struggle mode: feet in the pedals then out, losing my front wheel, then stalling out in corners and sliding around like I’d never touched a bike before. Something wasn’t lining up – I was getting in my own way.
I want to be really clear: at no point did my fitness nor my strength hinder me at Round 2 in Argentina. I actually felt better and stronger than I did the week prior in Chile (despite my chest cold) and I was constantly amazed at how great my bike felt under my shoulders and hands. I do remember, however, thinking to myself on one stage: “why am I even filming this? I’m going SO SLOW right now.” And that was it. There was no excuse for the thing that kept me from achieving what I believed I could achieve in Argentina: I just rode really slowly.
I realize now that this is all part of the process. I used to ride in pain. Like brutal, gut wrenching pain that ran up my arms, neck and down my back whenever I rode my bike. That’s basically what I think of when I look back at most of 2015. Now my body feels pretty awesome, except my brain still operates like my shoulder is out of commission. We all heal from injuries and rehab in our own way, and I actually believe that with hard work and good help, I came back way faster than I should have. The lagging factor in this recovery, however, is my mind. I’ve been told the human mind has triggers in place to protect it from future injures based on experience, and my triggers are completely intact. I often found myself saying “hey wait…why are my feet out of my pedals right now? Why am I braking!??” My favourite line of personal commentary, which I shouted out loud to myself after crashing in Stage 2 “YOU ARE IN CONTROL OF YOUR BIKE!!”, reminded me how disconnected my mind is from my body right now.
I spoke to many riders on Sunday afternoon who were bewildered at their own performances on the dusty-as-hell trails of Catedral. Most folks, with the exception of my good friend Casey Brown, felt absolutely out of our element. I think the key thing that separated the fast riders from those of us who flailed all weekend was a willingness to embrace the chaos and the wildness of the riding and enjoy it. I realized that the more I told myself “this is so fun, right?”, I got tighter and had a harder time believing my own self-talk. What I lacked was the belief that it was fun – mostly because I was scared shitless.
So what now? Well, I accept the process. Round 1 was about humility, and Round 2 has taught me to learn to accept my deepest fears – the ones I don’t even consciously think about – and learn to adapt and press on as they guide me. It’s ok – everyone has bad races (my friend Yoann’s video of his day 2 in Argentina is the perfect example of what many of us dealt with out there). Failure is something we should see as a gift: progress is not perfection!
See you at the Juliana Bike Night AND Sea Otter!