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Going on a Sagebrush Safari
By Sabine

It's a weird name for a race, isn’t it? I mean who goes out on safari to shoot/see/photograph sagebrush? My visions of safari involve rolling along through the bush in a spiffy white land rover with spiffy starched khakis, a J Peterman walking hat and a camera equipped with a really big lens. But no, this was a mountain bike race, no spiffy land rovers for us on these trails and no time to stop and take pictures.

The Sagebrush Safari is held in the mountains east of San Diego and about as far south in California as you can get. Beautiful country - in a remote, hot, rugged, dusty kind of way. This was race #2 in the California State Mountain Bike Series and the reason that Shelly, Petra and I made the nine hour journey south.

We arrived on Saturday to preride the course. We got out of the car and WHAM, noticed that it was a bit hot out. Somewhere in the recesses of my bike bag was a sleeveless jersey that I carried for occasions like this. I rifled through the now useless arm warmers, undershirts, wool socks, toe covers and vests that are staple necessities on our foggy coastline and found the flimsy little jersey with the tags still on.

We prerode the Pro/Expert loop which involved climbing to the top of a hill covered in radio towers, the international symbol for highest hill around. At our preride pace, with good conversation, and a not so gentle breeze to cool us, the hill was actually a nice little climb and the descent was way fun. Maybe this race wouldn't be so tough after all. Petra and Shelly continued on to preride the main loop. I don’t make a habit of preriding most of a 30 mile race the day before a race, so I hung out in the lovely shade of tree and drank my water. Little did I know that my time under the tree was also preriding the course in a way.

The next morning I stepped out of the hotel room and WHAM, it was still hot. More hot even. And no breeze. At the race site we learned our start time had been delayed. We would be starting at about 11:45. That would put us out on the course during the hottest part of the day. They started all expert and pro women together which meant that I would get to ride with Petra and Shelly for about 3 minutes. Jimena Florit was in the field and as expected she took charge at the start. The start took us through an old lakebed full of sand and little rocks. Sand is no problem for us Happy Trailers and so we all had a good start. Petra was pegged to Jimena's wheel and I was pegged to Shelly's. Petra and Jimena hit the pavement with a little bit of a gap and Shelly jumped around the girls in front of her and bridged up to them. I started to go with Shelly, then reason took over and I stayed put.

The pavement climb begins in the trees and so it wasn't so bad. Then we pitched up and out of the trees and it was very bad. Gone was yesterday’s breeze and the sun reflected off the black pavement and slowly cooked us. I decided to put my head down, get in an easy gear and make it to the top without boiling over. In one of the few moments that I raised my head, I saw Petra and Shelly waaaaaaay up the hill sitting on Jimena’s wheel and then they were gone up and over the top and I still had half the climb to go.

Finally I hit the singletrack at the top and wheeee I'm having fun what with all the bermy turns...until the Sport Men arrived. The Sport Men were staged a minute or two behind us and so it wasn’t long before they caught up to us back of the pack expert women. They were eager, competitive and ready to run over women in their quest for the fight for 27th place. Actually most of the men are polite when passing, but those few who aren't…..well if I had a gun and I was on safari, it wouldn't be sagebrush I'd be shooting.

All the Sport Men passing drama was soon forgotten when we hit the hike a bike. This hike-a-bike put the "hike" in hike-a-bike. Damn it was long. Where was my J Peterman walking stick when I needed it? Is this why they call it a safari? Ugh.

I decided that since it was so hot, I should drink a lot of water. And I drank and drank and drank. I've heard that drinking too much water too quickly is not good because it delays gastric emptying. I'm not sure exactly what gastric emptying is, but I think I did it quite effectively when I barfed up water somewhere after the hike a bike. "Cool," I thought, "I've never barfed water before, another racing first!"

Then came the climb up the canyon. If there was any breeze in the air, it wasn't reaching this canyon. My fog skin was pretty confused and showed its disdain for the heat by breaking out into goosebumps. I dropped into the granny in hopes of spinning up the hill, but there was no spinning. There's nothing worse than putting it in the granny in hopes of spinning and it still feels like your pushing the big ring. Then I saw a tree that looked very much like the tree I sat under on the preride. The shade was too much temptation and I rolled off course and directly underneath it. I hung out for a while and drank more water and cheered on singlespeeders.

I decided to see if I could climb to the feed zone and get some cold water or sympathy or a beer so I left the cool comfort of the tree and headed backonto the course. I made it to the feedzone, but there were all these people standing around and cheering for me. I couldn't pull out in front of them. I decided I would make the turn for the expert loop and maybe pull out where no one could see my shame. But there was a breeze on this hill and I started to feel better. About 1/3 up the climb I was even able to put it back in the middle ring. I was doing it! I was climbing again. I looked up the trail and saw no one. I looked behind me and saw no one. It was just me and the hill and all I could hear was the crunch of my tires and my breath finally finding its rhythm. I glanced out over the hills to the south and the rugged mountains that reached into Mexico. This was pretty cool, it was still crazy hot, but this was cool.

All my lonely climbing paid off in that I had a sweet stretch of downhill singletrack all to myself. The descent started off rocky, but then smoothed out into turns and berms and way fun whoop sections. Traction was good so I could really let it go. I made motorcycle noises over the whoops as I let my bike float under and a little ahead of me. Brrpp brrrrpp brrrrrrrpp.

One more climb up to the feedzone, feeling much spunkier this time, one more sandy twisty descent, back through the lakebed and finally to the finish line. Shelly and Petra were waiting at the finish line to cheer me on. Damn they're patient; they must have finished hours before me. Turns out that Petra and Shelly were able to hang on to Jimena's wheel until the steepest part of the climb, where Jimena pulled away. Petra was a bit exhausted from matching Jimena's pace up the climb and biffed it in the singletrack. She recovered and powered on to finish 3rd in the Pro Women. Shelly charged through the course, completely dispelling all my "but we work out in the fog" excuses. Shelly handily won the Women Expert 30-39 and was 2nd woman overall. And, yes, she's contemplating an upgrade. I was surprised to learn that I was not as last as I thought. I finished 6th in Women Expert 30-39, with half my field still behind me.

We wiped off the layers of dust, loaded back into the car and started the long drive back home. As we neared San Diego, I could see the whisps of fog creeping over the coastline. I stared longingly at the cool quick moving clouds and wondered to myself "Well where the HELL WERE YOU when I needed you?!"

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