Fire and Ice

May 29, 2008 · Print This Article

By Kimber Gabryszak
Park City, Utah

So there’s no way I can come up with as colorful a writeup as that, Allie! But warning – mine will be wordy, sorry! It was just an amazing weekend and I’m full of things I want to share!


Yep, Angel Fire DH was BRUTAL, and the women’s field was whittled from 21 to 18 by the time we qualified. The first third of the course consisted of seemingly endless boulders, and adding in the rain on day one and the ice/snow/craziness on day two, seemed nearly impossible. But by race day most of us were cleaning them, and let’s just say I feel that my riding has improved exponentially as a result of throwing myself down the course over and over. And it was actually fun! Once the snow melted, that is. A super good time, and can’t wait until this time next year.


I found myself really wishing for a camera on Saturday, in the early morning snow and ice. Addie had fallen in the slippery icyness of the upper rock garden, and was standing in the snow picking up her bike when I rolled up behind her. Wearing a bright red jersey and standing alone, she stood out brilliantly against the snow, and the collage of rocks, trees, and snow was just incredibly surreal…


The other surreal moment was cleaning the imfamous road-gap / step-down that ended my season so early last year. Run I, I rode past it and thought “no way! That is WAY smaller than I remember it!” Run II, I rode past and thought “I’m hitting that this weekend” and felt cold in the pit of my belly. Day II, Addie and Allie pep talked me (thanks!), then I watched Addie hit it, watched Allie hit it, and then held my breath and went for it…and hit my brakes in a panic just before takeoff but somehow landed it. Funny, but that almost crashing made day III’s attempt even scarier…

Day III, I spent 20 minutes chatting (stalling) with the EMT stationed at the road step down, a hilarious older gentleman who told me “Kimber, you’ve got a choice to make here.” Which I thought would be choose a) be safe or b) take a risk, like most EMTs might say. Nope, not Vladimir! “Kimber,” he said, “you can choose, to hit this today, or you can choose, to die old and in bed.”

WOW! He went on with such philosophies as “injuries keep you young – they keep you appreciating your life, keep your immune system working and healthy.” Really? The EMT is TELLing me to hit this thing?

I hiked back to my bike. Stood it up. Straddled it. Watched a dozen more riders clean the drop with ease. Closed my eyes and envisioned the turn of the approach, envisioned the 2 or 3 pedal strokes to get my speed up, envisioned removing my fingers from the brake levers entirely. Opened my eyes and saw Vladimir looking at me. Fiddled some more with my bike. Watched more riders. Finally, when I saw the fabulous Melissa Buhl ride by so effortlessly, I knew it was time to quit stalling.

Deep breath, foot on pedal, other foot on pedal, coast into the turn, bank, pedal pedal pedal, pull fingers back, sudden weightlessness, then the amazingly soft rumble of the dirt back under the tires, so smooth! YES! The demon is dead.


Like Allie said, Sunday was when things started getting crazy. The weekend of riding on such rough ground started to take a toll on our bikes, and little malfunctions started to emerge. Well, some malfunctions and some, um, breakage due to impacts with rocks. A hole poked in one frame, a deep gouge in another, scratched fork stanchions, bashed derailleur that lost some screws, chainguide shiftage and failure, etc.

(Plus, my bike hadn’t been ridden before this weekend. I had the wrong size bottom bracket, and had to wait for a replacement before I could finish assembling the bike. The BB got here 4 days before the race, so I had no choice, but I’m sure some of the malfunctions were just the bugs working themselves out.)

In practice before qualifying, my chain had come loose from the chainguide, and it seemed that the guide itself was misaligned and derailling the chain off itself. I spent an hour after practice at the Chili Pepper shop jamming cassette spacers into the chainguide wheel (not made for each other, so that was interesting) to correct the problem. It wasn’t enough, and just after the top rock garden the chain came off and hung around my pedal, and without tools it was in a position that I couldn’t stop and fix. I took the go-round on the road gap since I feared not being able to pedal into it, but finished the qualifier in one piece. No worries – the actual race is a day away.


On a side note, it was rather funny when Allie and I went to the Chili Pepper. There we were, wearing our Bella jerseys, with rhinestones decking out my bike and both with glitter/makeup on, asking for tools instead of for help. Yippee! I think they liked it. 😉


Monday morning, I tightened the chainguide, then realized that my derailleur was missing the high limit screw, allowing the chain to jump off at that end of the system. I didn’t have time to fix it since practice was only an hour long, so I went up for a run and kept the chain in a lower gear, which seemed to work. And then had 2 flat tires on the descent. Are you kidding me???

2 hours and $75 later (parts, not labor, tee hee), and with a modified limit screw repairing my derailleur, onto the lift we go; it’s finally time to race. One more trip down this course.

I finally have a successful S-turn, clean the first few rock gardens and feel elated, pass the rider ahead of me (who had a bad crash slow her down, sigh), then promptly feel my pedals lurch to a stop. No!!! The limit screw is out, and the chain has slipped off the cassette and is wedged in place. But the wheels keep rolling…

One pedal up and one down, I keep coasting and pumping. Clearing a steep rock feature, a couple guys watching cheer, then trail off as I say “Thank you!” to them and promptly STOP and pull over to mess with my bike. I know the next section is nearly impossible to clear without pedalling, though the 20+ seconds it takes to put the chain back into a somewhat functional position feels like an eternity. Is it worth it?

Yes. It’s worth it. I pedal through the remaining sections, and crowning moment is when I pedal into the drop without hesitating and clean it! Hurrah! I cross the finish line, and somehow still have a time a bit faster than my qualifying time, so I’m ok. My goal was to have a sub-9 minute time (sub-8 would have been better, but…), and with just the time wasted unjamming my chain I would have met the goal.

Still, I think that Angel Fire just really likes me, so it keeps giving me reasons to go back. This year it was to overcome the road drop, next year it’s to have a malfunctionless run. Silly Angel Fire, I don’t need a reason to come back!


Lessons learned:

* pack a disposable camera for those must-have photos
* do whatever I can to make sure that the first weekend on the bike isn’t a race!
* speed is your friend – both in the rock gardens and the road gap, it was easier and safer to go faster
* um, TMI…3 separate incidents of, ah, 3 of us, um, well, mmhm, you see, er, injuring sensitive areas makes us wonder if we can get sponsored by someone who makes female cups…but the lesson learned is just to bring those no matter what!
* EMTs named Vladimir are wise


And the final comment is that 5 girls in a condo / at a race together = good times, good racing, good support, good conversation, good conglomeration of repair/healing knowledge, good karma, good vibes, good food, good encouragement, just overall good stuff! This weekend was one of the best biking weekends I’ve ever had, thanks ladies! You rock!

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