Sea Otter and the Day Jeannie Longo Scrubbed My Toilet
It's springtime, the beginning of the race season and time for Sea Otter, the self proclaimed "Unabashed Celebration of the Bicycle." While the Sea Otter is a big circus of an event, it's still a cool event. I am so fortunate to have this event in my backyard. The Sea Otter is why I am here writing this article today.
My first visit to the Sea Otter was in 1997. I was playing league roller hockey at the time and in 1997 the Sea Otter still featured rollerblading events. I had heard about the event through my hockey buddies, so I headed over there to check it out. I couldn't help but notice all these muddy dirty mountain bikers with blood dripping from their knees, and they were all smiling. Here they were, cold, muddy, scraped up, and they were all smiling. I had to get in on whatever they were doing. I saved my pennies and a month or so later, bought my first mountain bike, a used Stumpjumper. I took that bike to the trails in Fort Ord and I had this wonderful knack for falling over even while riding along on the flats. I couldn't climb, couldn't descend, fell if the breeze barely blew past me, but I was hooked. I fell in love with the sport and I haven't played a whole season of hockey since.
I entered my first race a few months later. It was horrible. I fell off a little bridge into a culvert on the last lap, but I finished and I had a blast. I returned to Sea Otter the following year to race my first Sport race, and I've been back every year since then. Each year something funny, silly, fantastic and memorable has happened, but the year I remember best is the year Jeannie Longo scrubbed my toilet.
Each Sea Otter year, my house is packed with visiting friends and their bikes. In 1999, the call went out for host housing for a women's team from France. The team included Jeannie Longo, so I immediately said "yes." The rest of the team was composed of young French female racers, and so my boyfriend immediately said "yes" as well. I assumed they would all be sleeping in the downstairs room and my good friends would sack out in the room upstairs. I spent most of the days leading up to Jeannie's arrival cleaning house. But, being a sweep-under-the-rug kind of cleaner, I only meticulously cleaned the downstairs portion of the house.
Jeannie arrived a few days before Sea Otter while I was at work. A friend let her in, and she took one look at the one bedroom with two beds and shook her head. She would not share a room with her young teammates. Instead, she went door to door in my neighborhood and asked for lodging. Now, I am unfortunately, a bad neighbor. I spend all my free time riding my bike and none of it mowing my lawn or making nice with my neighbors. And while Jeannie may be well-known in France and the rest of Europe, she was just another tiny crazy Frenchwoman to my stranger neighbors. Needless to say, she struck out.
I was stuck at work and frantic, because this little Frenchwoman was running around a Seaside neighborhood asking for lodging. I hurried home and rearranged the living conditions so that Jeannie has the upstairs room all to herself, and my friends were relegated to the living room floor. Jeannie immediately set out arranging the room to her needs. There was too much light in the room, so she duct taped a blanket over the window. She even duct taped the little red light on the computer. She positioned her bed so that the head of it was facing magnetic north. And she cleaned. Admittedly, the room wasn't as clean as I would have liked. Had I known, I might have cleaned a little more. As it was, she spent most of her first day vacuuming, cleaning, shining, dusting and yes, even scrubbing my toilet.
Finally, Jeannie settled in and took over my home. She went out for training rides during the day and cooked for her team at night. The team ate lots of pasta, yogurt, nuts, figs, dates and vegetables. She preferred organic foods and drank the water she cooked the vegetables in to obtain the vitamins lost in cooking. The team's food portions were carefully metered, and she even slapped the hand of one girl who reached for an extra slice of cheese. The girls frequently complained of hunger and looked forward to ice cream that Jeannie promised them they could have after Sea Otter.
Jeannie got to know, and I think developed a crush on, my boyfriend Alan. She enjoyed talking to him about bikes and racing. She told him, "I zink you are a sadist" upon learning that he was racing singlespeed at Sea Otter but added, "ahhh..you have ze look of a vinner." Needless to say, Jeannie was right and Alan did win his race. She was so happy for him that she baked him some Zuchinni bread. His bread. I was sternly reminded that it was His bread, not mine.
Sea Otter was a big commotion between racing, houseguests and volunteering, but eventually it was all over. Jeannie didn't race as well as she wanted to, but she enjoyed her stay with us. She left us some autographed pictures and a French Cycling Union t-shirt as thanks. She said she was feeling her age and that perhaps she was too old to compete anymore. We waved goodbye, and she had a very eventful trip to the airport (that's a whole other story). Jeannie was wrong about one thing though...she wasn't too old to compete anymore. Two years later, at the age of 42, Jeannie Longo won the 2001 World Time Trial Championships, and she hasn't retired yet.
1999 Sea Otter was a great year, but the other years had their moments too. Someday, maybe I'll tell you about the time I spit on Filip Meirhaeghe. But no time for that now, I have to get ready for the 2002 Sea Otter and whatever fantastic memories it throws my way.
Jeannie Longo is the most accomplished bike racer in history. She is an Olympic gold medal winner, 13-time world champion, multiple national champion and world hour record holder. View Jeannie's palmares.