The Sea Otter Classic is the biggest bike event of the year in all of ‘Merca, and it takes place at the Laguna Seca Raceway in Monterey, CA. Campers cover the surrounding grassy hills. Music and the smell of cooking meat emanate from the massive tent city that is the expo, where every bike company and bike-related product has a presence.
I go to promote the UNPavement trails project, show off the bike, meet cool people and just have a good time. This was my second year, and i didn’t feel so lost. Instead of wandering around in my wheelchair, pushing up huge hills, and trying to figure out where i needed to be, i just drove straight to the registration building and promptly set up camp.
Last year, I was very uncomfortable with my camping setup. My tent was low to the ground, making it difficult to get in and out with my rotator cuff injury and weakened triceps. I was also freezing cold during the nights, so this year, I decided to alleviate these issues by getting a tent i could roll right into, a blowup mattress i could transfer easily onto, and a super thick cozy sleeping bag. I even ran electricity into the tent with a long extension cord so i could charge my bike battery and be able to make coffee immediately upon waking. We called the set-up the “Master Suite.” An at-home pre-setup test proved that everything was good to go, but at camp, the mattress ended up losing air during the night and the first morning i woke up a taco, sinking deep into the middle. i just could not get myself to inflate it, disturbing everyone camping around me. The super cozy sleeping bag proved to be too short too. Even though i am just average height, i had to bend my legs in order to pull the bag up to my face.
Also, setting up a tent from a wheelchair is totally do-able, but at my age, it’s just way more than i prefer to do. All this to say that i am going to be on the road a lot, promoting the project and mapping trails, so i promised myself i’d get a camping trailer or van. Hopefully, setting up the project as a non-profit will help make this happen.
After setting up camp, I geared up and headed to practice. My first run was terrifying! After spending the whole day in the car, jumping onto the downhill course cold was an intense wake up. Next year, i will give myself time to pedal around and get all my muscles firing so that my body is ready. My second run was more on point, and after three practice runs the next day, i felt prepared and confident for the event.
Race day is a whole other mental game though. You gotta get all geared up and get over to the race course just to find out when your race time is. My race time was in a few hours, so i killed time by cruising the expo and kicking it back at the campsite. The riders have to make sure and get back to the race course early, before their race time, but when i arrived back early, they were about an hour behind schedule. So, by the time i was actually on the course ready to go, i had been sitting in the sun for over an hour—tired, thirsty, and definitely not in an ideal mind-space to do my best in front of a crowd.
The countdown timer still goes off, no matter how you are feeling, and I was rolling down the course through a cheering crowd and the fog in my head. I navigated all the features well enough, but not as fast as i did in practice the previous day. After a 3 1/2 foot log drop, a steep S-turn, a G-out section, and a table-top jump, there is a deceiving straight away where it feels like you can relax a little bit. This is where i made a dumb mistake. The section is slightly off-camber and curves gradually right, so you still need to be focused on a bike like mine.
In my brain fog, i thought, “Oh no! I forgot to turn the camera on!” On this straight away, i looked down at the camera for a split second, and that its all it took for me to lose control. The surrounding tall, soft grass felt like i was falling onto pillows, but absolutely no one was around. I yelled for help, answered only by silence and the sound of the racers zipping by. I had to eject from my bike to flip it over. Getting back in with the slope of the hill proved to pretty difficult. It took every ounce of strength i had, and about twenty minutes or so, to get back into a position to finish. But now there was another problem—no one had alerted the race directors that I’d crashed, so the race traffic was never stopped. I had to dart dangerously back onto the race course, immediately behind a passing racer, go the absolute fastest i could possibly go, and hope the next racer did not catch me. Ruining someone’s run would be terrible!
It all worked out okay. I got down safely, and no one caught up to me. I felt really alone though. No one talked to me afterwards. No one knew i was out there struggling. Everyone else seemed to be surrounded by friends and have their crew with them. I left the course, climbed back up the road, and headed back to camp.
Despite being in a weird mood and not feeling up to riding more, I texted a guy named Darius from the Monterey Off-Road Cycling Association (MORCA) that Brent Hillier from TrailForks had put me into contact with to show me some surrounding trails. Despite my mood, I felt a deep sense of responsibility to take advantage of being there by documenting at least something in the area. To my surprise, Darius answered and agreed to take me on a tour.
The Fort Ord area is not known to be spectacular riding, but it is breathtakingly scenic and stunningly bright green this time of year. I was blown away. This ride changed everything. Darius’ pal Rodrigo, who is a knowledgeable park ranger, came along and provided interesting information about the area and plenty of laughs. It was nice to be riding with some really cool guys. They took me down the two trails that are part of the enduro course, and i had a blast! This ride turned out to be the highlight of my trip, and i can’t wait to go back. Hopefully, i will be sleeping in a nice comfy camper and the Taco-Mattress-Tent-Master-Suite is a thing of the past.
Watch my latest UNP video about the experience.