Up in the Keweenaw of Michigan the winters are snow filled until about May. I love the winter and the snow. Cross country and downhill skiing is mostly how I stay active in the winter… aside from my riveting stationary bike intervals.

Itching to get on my pedals I made a seize the moment decision to make the 18 hour drive to North Carolina for the weekend to ride in Neko Mullally‘s Downhill Southeast series. Now all I had to do was find someone who also is suffering from the same biking withdrawals to come along! In the Keweenaw this is a pretty common breed. I was lucky to be joined by Eric Isaacs.

After packing my little Subaru up like a tetris game, we were on our way. Since I just drove round trip to Colorado this drive didn’t seem so bad. We drove through the night and got to Bailey Mountain later in the afternoon the next day. In the middle of nowhere in North Carolina lays a little piece of mountain bike heaven, Bailey Mountain. This place is the ultimate downhill dream. Loose and gnarly terrain, with some big jumps and drops mixed in too.

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Photo: Jay Shultz GoJamMedia

Feeling shaky after driving in the car for 18 hours and not being on a bike for 5 months the nerves were high. I knew it was better to take it easy. We only got 2 practice runs in, and barley got to see the course.

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Photo: Jay Shultz GoJamMedia

Downhill racing is a mental game. Every second counts and every move must be thought out to make it down the track as soon as possible. Having a visual stream of the track in your head is very important. I knew that was not going to work for me this time since I had only gotten to see the track twice. Practice was dusty and loose; the dirt was comparable to a layer of fresh powder snow. This made for unstable runs, and lots of two wheel squeals.

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Photo: Jay Shultz GoJamMedia

For the race the weather had different plans for us. It had rained all evening and night and the track went from a loose dry track to a slippery steep mess. I got one race run in the morning to see the track wet and it was a challenge. Riders were going all over the trail, and sometimes flying off the trail. Not confident in my lines or staying on track I decided to clear my head of the mental thoughts and just look ahead at the track to decide where I wanted to go. This is not a typical way to start a downhill race, but I did not have much of a choice with the track completely different and no mental stream in my head.

All the women all called forward to get onto the military truck that will bring us to the top of the track. I am the last woman to start and I cannot just wait around.

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Photo: Eric Isaacs

I need to keep moving keep thinking to keep the nerves away. Now I am up to the starting block and right before I go one thing runs through my mind “ride it like it’s dry” GO!

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Photo: Eric Isaacs

Holding my speed and I am doing okay. I know there is a steep and tight left hand corner coming up that is going to be hard to get right in these conditions. I get thrown off line in a rock garden and am coming into the left hand corner to tight. I try to correct for the mistake but I cannot make the corner. My bike is sideways and I am sliding down the steep face. I know this will not go in my favor and I will not be able to bring my bike back on line at this point. I get off and say “that’s not good” spectators respond “Its fine you are doing good” I know I have already lost my run and I find it funny so I say to them “if I have time to talk to you, I am probably not doing so good.” I am not upset about this mistake and I knew I was not going to have the race I wanted but I did not want to get hurt, and come on I am riding my bike so how un happy can I be?! I finish the rest of my run clean with no crashes and that was good enough for me.

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Photo: Eric Isaacs

Eric is coming down the track for his first downhill race ever, and even so he is racing a 120mm travel bike (smallest bike on course). Not going to lie I was a bit nervous for him for that reason but I know he has the technical skills to come out with a good run. He finishes nice and clean and with a big smile on his face. We had both gotten our fix, of adrenaline, of dirt, of stoke, and of riding. The withdrawals were alleviated.

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Photo: Emily Oppliger

Sadly after we both finished we needed to get back into the car and start driving. It was hard to leave this magical place with dirt in March but the realities of college were haunting us. We drove a measly 8 hours to Indianapolis where we both have family to stay the night and make a quick visit. This was easily one of my favorite parts of my trip. Seeing my cousins and talking about their adventures to college as well as sharing my life adventures and racing was truly special. I wish I could have stayed for a week! It was sunny and beautiful as well as GREEN! Before getting back into the car to finish the 10 hours of driving, I sat on their back porch and stared out at the water. In that moment I was thoughtless… just thankful. Thankful for my Mom and Dad who always support me even though they may not always understand, and for my wonderful family all over the country who is always there for me and are my biggest fans.

I hugged my amazing aunt goodbye and turned my brain on to drive. Making it home at about 9:30 pm to Houghton… the trip was over. It was time to put my thumb on the trigger and shift into another gear… a gear of snow, school, work, and of course stronger more than ever downhill fever.

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