Let me start this blog off by saying welcome to the 2023 season! I don’t really consider this my season “opener”, because it’s February and let’s be honest, who is really seriously racing in the middle of February? This was viewed as a skills day for me and a hard day in the saddle while also testing out new equipment. Plus, with me wintering in California for winter training, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to check this event out since it was so close.
But before I get to the actual race, or event rather, I want to preface this by something important that occurred before the event started. This event has about 1,000 riders for 2023 and they send riders out in waves of about 300 people. I just assumed I would be wave 1 and didn’t give it much thought. When emails came out on Thursday about our wave assignments, I was in wave 2. I messaged some of the other ladies and they were also wave 2. They said it was always this way. Even Anna, who placed top 50 last year, was placed into wave 2 simply because she was a female. I thought maybe I was overreacting, but why would they not let any females into wave 1? This is advertised as an event, not a race. However, I want to point out that they must hand select certain males to be in wave 1 based on ability - pros they know are fast, former results, etc. Additionally, this course is technical and weird, meaning starting behind 300 men would make it that much more challenging to pass them out on course. So after the other ladies expressed they felt the same way, I emailed the race organizers. I knew that if we were allowed into wave 1, that would actually work against me relative to the other women. I even paused myself in that thought for a while before I did anything. If we started in wave 1, the other women, particularly the 2 Annas (who placed 1-2), have much better technical riding skills and could likely have their ability elevated racing against the elite men with higher skill levels too. Starting all of us in wave 2 with less skilled and in theory slower riders, would actually benefit me in my odds to staying with those ladies on the technical bits. However, the pure principle of the matter really bothered me and I felt obligated to say something despite it hurting my odds of doing better. I want to elevate all women in this sport, not just do what’s best for myself. I want as many women in the top 100 results, not just myself. So, off the email to the race organizers went. I didn’t expect much, even a reply given how busy a race organizer is 2 days out from an event. But within minutes, he replied back with reassurance of his support of women at his event. Later that evening, they made a post and email stating that any female registered who wanted into wave 1 could ask at registration and get bumped up. That was huge, and because of that, this event gains my support in their willingness to change last minute and being open to change. I can’t imagine being an event organizer, particularly with so many opinions about females having their own starts. I love the idea of a female only start or separating out the females in large scale events, like the Lifetime Events. But in smaller events such as this, or when waves are selected based on time, let us compete with the men and let our results dictate that wave selection, not our genitalia.
Now about the actual event….I knew this would likely not be my cup of tea. I’m not much of a MTB’er or someone who enjoys the “wtf” is this type of course. But, I know that in order for my skills to improve and grow, I need to continue to make myself uncomfortable. So there I was, signed up for RockCobbler, the event that prides itself on being the event created by “drunken madmen” to be “stupidly hard.” Stupid is probably a good word to describe a lot of that course. It was wild. It was unexpected. It was insane. Would I do it again? Likely not. But I think this event is something that you do at least once in your life to say you have. Or for the crazies that actually enjoy this foolishness, they keep coming back. I will say that despite the most foolish event and sketchiest ride I’ve done, their course markings were world class. We are literally riding in private fields, cow fields and random bluffs, but somehow the GPS tracking was spot on and despite being in the middle of a random AF field there are endless pink arrows and chalk markings at any possible turn. Well done RockCobbler; that was impressive.
Given how wild this event and terrain was, I would literally write a 5 page write up on the course alone. So instead of that, and honestly I’m not sure I want to relive those moments, I will just highlight some of the noteworthy ones:
We rode through a house. Yeah, you read that right. Literally through a house around mile 11. At this moment, I just laughed and soon realized the tone for the day. That was pretty cool and I thought it was comical.
All terrain types, including thick buttery mud, where at times I questioned if it was truly mud or ankle deep cow shit. We had kitty litter slick single track. We rode across wet grass. We rode on muddy single track that was off camber into the cow path of death ledge as I referred to it. We had run ups, and more than one. One of the run ups I actually struggled to walk up, and that is saying a lot given my running background.
Cows….and more cows. Cue the jokes about the 2022 cow debacle that we have all seen videos of…. I remember at one point before the mud section there was a cow on the trail. This trail had no exits and was narrow between 2 grassy ledges so we had nowhere to go and had to wait for the cow and just bike slowly behind it waiting for it to find a small area to get off the trail. All the while you can tell the cow was starting to get agitated and let me tell you, those suckers are massive. I can’t even remember how many times we passed or saw cows. Some of the riders actually got charged by a bull and had to use their bike as defense. Wild times out there….
Steep, steep and more steep sections. Steep sections that went up, and steep sections that went down. I disliked both, but preferred the ups. This course was very much a momentum course, meaning if you can descend well/fast or corner well, that momentum carried you much faster up the steep kickers. For me, I often started those kickers from a much slower pace given my technical weaknesses. I definitely got in a lot of high power at low cadence efforts yesterday even with my mullet gearing!
Some of the best scenery I’ve had the privilege to ride. And I say privilege with purpose because a lot of this route was on private lands that the community opens up specifically for this event. Thank you people of Bakersfield. The foothills in this region are just simply incredible and despite the wonkiest course I’ve ever ridden, the backdrop was remarkable. No picture will do justice to the beauty of this terrain. I think I took this for granted until a friend reminded me how rare it was to ride in this area on these private ranches and land.
The best BBQ chicken….well this wasn’t on course, but was after. So good it deserves noting.
So there you have it, a different type of race, so a different type of race recap. This event wasn’t really about performance for me, but testing my comfort and skill level, which it certainly did. So much so that I ended this ride in much frustration. I also recognize that it’s okay to not love this type of riding. As I finished the race, several of the guys were giving me crap about not enjoying it. Telling me to relax, not be so uptight, etc. But maybe it’s okay to not enjoy this type of ride? It doesn’t mean I don’t like the actual event, I want that to be clear. The event was well run and the atmosphere was great. I just think this doesn’t have to be for everyone. I think this course would be best for mountain bikers or cyclocross riders. I just wanted to point out that not everyone has to “enjoy” the same things. I enjoy pedaling my bike and this event I was off my bike more than I would like and struggled to find consistent pedaling. It was a lot of questioning what the hell was happening!
I also know I can be rather hard on myself, which leads to wanting more in situations that showcase my weaknesses. I’m a competitive person, so this is something that I can’t exactly shut off. And this wasn’t even a race or a high priority for me in the slightest. But for me, skills came really fast in the first 2 years of riding bikes. When you go from never riding to racing at the professional level, that is bound to happen. But now that I have some experience, the smaller gains in skill level are much slower. I have to respect this process. Riders who have a lot of power and launch themselves to an elite level of racing fast can be discouraged by this and I felt that this weekend. I’m also impatient and highly motivated but you can’t force skills no matter how hard you try. And trust me, I am certainly trying.
So for all the new riders out there reading this, don’t be discouraged. Skills take a long time to evolve. I often ask some of the highly skilled riders that I train with how long it took them to learn a certain skill or to get better at off-road skills in general. Many of them respond by saying they are still learning even 10 years in. It’s a process. And this process can’t be forced, no matter how bad you want it. And you can still love riding your bike but yet have days that you don’t really enjoy it. I think that’s okay. As long as those days you don’t enjoy are infrequent and still serve a purpose for you in your learning. What’s fun for one RockCobbler may not be fun for another and quite frankly that’s okay in my opinion.