Traveling with Mike and Mary

Three months traveling and training in South America has been an amazing
yet unusually challenging way to start the race season. Our spanish
skills have improved or in the least the inhibitions of communicating
with what we know have been lowered. This time of intense dedication to
the sport has seen Mary and I seldom in one place for a solid week
making for demanding logistics and little sense of being grounded.
However, our racing adventures have served as great fitness preparation
for both Mary and I as we get into the heart of the season.

Mary has continued on with her successful cross country campaign, most
recently taking a pair of second place finishes in Chilean National
series races. The first at the UCI Copa Cannondale that was contested
on Cerro San Cristobal - a bone dry, rocky and technical metropolitan
park above the sky rises of Santiago. The next in the close quarters
single tracks that riddle the tiny observatory park in Curico. Mary
chose to run her Spider Comp 29 for the demanding and technically
challenging courses.

I have been fully involved with the XC racing (on my light weight but
rugged dropper post equipped Spider Comp 29) throughout the past few
months and recently felt the need for a committed swap to the Enduro
bike. Consistently riding the bike that you plan to race is an
important part of having your best day and I needed to get some specific
time on my big bike to get back in the groove for the opening rounds of
the Enduro World Series (EWS) in Chile and Argentina.

Fitness training is not always the priority when it comes to preparing
for Enduro and due to our commitment to XC I have found myself a bit shy
some of the technical aspects that are important to success in the sport
of enduro. I am looking forward to spending more time specifically
training these areas but in the mean time I feel really lucky that my
enduro ride, Intense's Carbine 29 is nothing short of confidence
inspiring. I know that as long as I can hold on, the bike will allow me
to handle whatever comes my way!

The EWS round one was held in the small port town of Corral, Chile, just
a short boat ride from Valdivia. The unique coastal range here is made
up of steep, lushly forested hills stocked with world class riding
potential. The trail builders made great use of the existing network
of well established chute like paths that have been carved into the
hills by the local logging practice that utilizes oversize cattle to
drag trees out of the forest for processing. The jungle feel, coupled
with the excellent mix of volcanic topsoil, almost virgin to the
mountain bike, but intact with flavorful flow made for some incredible
riding.

The event started with training on Thursday and Friday when riders
pedaled long transfer sections in order to access the timed sections
(special stages). This made for some pretty big days on the enduro
bikes and time for little more than a single pass on each of the
weekends 6 "specials". I really appreciated the pedaling only format as
it kept the playing field level while allowing a relaxed opportunity for
athletes to ride together while getting to know the intricacies of this
incredible area by bike. The no shuttling rule also served to keep
things as tranquil as possible in town considering the hundreds of
riders which all but overwhelmed the streets on bikes alone.

I set up my Carbine 29er with Kenda's Nevegal 2.2's and kept pressures
in the low 20's for increased traction in the tricky conditions. It is
important to have solid equipment as well as knowledge of how to set
things up to inspire confidence in a wide variety of conditions.

The racing went really well for me throughout the whole weekend, I was
especially happy to defy the odds by not going down too hard or too
often throughout the physically demanding "specials". I focused on big
efforts whenever it was possible to put power to the pedals in order to
take pressure off the feeling of needing to ride over my limits in the
considerable technical pieces. The racing was heated and the times were
tight so I was really stoked to make the Masters 40+ podium (3rd) while
sticking to my plan focused on steady, clean riding!

I shook off the post race sore and tired feeling at first light on
Monday morning by scoring a memorable surf session. I had kept an eye
on this special break throughout the week hoping the swell and
conditions would line up for some time in the water after the race.
Surfing is never a definite and this fickle rock filled wave requires
more specific conditions than most. I felt very lucky to get some solid
waves with our the tight window of possibility before we had to move
onto the next mission.

Logistics took up the rest of the day as we packed up Mary's equipment
for a week with the US National Team in Catamarca, Argentina where she
would compete at the Pan American Championships. At the same time I
carefully assembled my gear for the next round of the EWS in Bariloche.
It felt strange to be heading in separate directions for the first time
in a while but we both knew that we were headed to where we needed to
be.

I dropped Mary off at the Valdivia airport for her solo adventure to her
13th Pan Ams and continued my drive two hours south to Osorno to possy
up with my good friends and traveling partners for the week.

We crammed my gear onto the top of an already packed team truck and
headed through a low point the incredible Andes directly on to the
impressive mountain city of Bariloche. Arriving just at sunset was a
spectacle crowned by Cerro Catedral's impossibly jagged peaks scraping a
dusty pink star filled sky. Though were just 6 or so hours from last
week's venue this was an all together different land and would prove to
be a much different event as well.

The mornings in Bariloche started below freezing, a thick frost adding
discomfort and a fresh unseasonable beauty to the mountain scene. As
promised the EWS tracks in Bariloche were more akin to the Downhill side
of the Enduro spectrum. The majority of the tracks would take advantage
of the resort mountain where gondolas allowed access to the mountains
exceptional upper reaches.

The Catedral mountains proved to be beyond beautiful and full of
uniquely difficult riding. The biggest challenge for me were the visual
aspects, as in "what the hell are we even riding on" since much of the
ultra technical terrain was blanketed in a thick layer of gravelly dust.
The track changed so drastically with each passing run that the lines
you thought you had just dialed in might very well now be churned into
airborne powder leaving only bike swallowing ruts and tremendous braking
bumps at most every corner, steep or transition.

This was the type of riding that most would not consider fun as it
dramatically pushed the body and equipment to the limit. It did however
make an amazing arena for competition! I immediately reached for all
the protective gear I had on hand, lowered tire pressures, raised my
bar, and borrowed some goggles cause Cerro Catedral was no place to be
rocking sun glasses.

Pedaling sections were few and far between and finding the survival line
was in many cases the priority over the fast line. Stories of chaos
included riders loosing crashed bikes in the deep duff, a good deal of
rarely seen equipment issues due to the uniquely horrendous conditions
and of course a constant banter about the most appropriate way to
attempt the countless challenging pieces. Riders battled the choking
sand, gasping through blinding face shots of dust, burrs poking through
every piece of clothing, and debris that shot skyward like shrapnel and
packed into every orifice, avioli and bronchiole tube brought anywhere
near the event.

This DH heavy format in Bariloche didn't necessarily play to my
strengths so I was really happy to get through safe and fast enough to
find my way back onto the podium (3rd once again) after such an
incredibly demanding weekend!

These vastly different EWS weekends served as a reminder of the great
diversity found in Enduro competition! The need for physical
conditioning and technical skill vary greatly from event to event.
The terrain alongside the open interpretation of Enduro rules ensures
that riders' skills, strengths and weakness will be revealed and tested
at each event. Most will find the chance to learn or find areas to
improve on as well as race on something that suits their style when the
right track comes around.

We stayed up way too late BBQing into the night after the ceremony
finished, adrenaline in full swing and happy to have had successful
experiences pushing our limits in Bariloche.
We somehow managed to make the early morning border crossing the next
day and soon enough I was back in my own car heading north to meet up
with Mary again.

It was a Testament to the energy giving power of Guayaki Yerba Mate as
well as the entire box of podium chocolate that I consumed on my 12 hour
(1000km) solo drive back from Osorno to Santiago. Mary and I were
happily reunited in the city sometime around 2am and stayed up far later
recounting stories that brilliantly colored both our weekends.

Mary confidently building and tuning her bike while doing everything
possible to recover from travel induced cramping issues to finally get
her body on form just in time to dial in the course and have a good
race. I enjoyed hearing of her side adventures experiencing something
of the culture of Catamarca, testing the acoustics in an ancient
cathedral with an inspired Ave Maria and having her bike blessed by some
local Dominican nuns.

Super proud of Mary for her 4th place finish at Pan American Continental
Championships - an event that has been a favorite for our team since we
made it to our first one in Ecuador 2004 and since has remained high on
the priority list no matter our plans for the reminder of the season.
Racing on foreign soil always seems to bring memorable experiences. We
love the adventure of travel and riding in new places, and especially
meeting up with the local faction of the bike tribe wherever we go.
There is also something very special about racing in the American colors
and so publicly and nationalistically representing the country,
something that Mary seems to do like no other!

We woke up the next morning and jetted out of the city to our preferred
spot on the central Chilean coast. With only a few days to tie up loose
ends, store equipment and say goodbye to our friends until our already
planned journey back here next year… It's now time to pack up the XC
bikes and fly to Cairns, Australia for the opening round of the Cross
Country World Cup!

Stoked to continue on with the next steps of this world wide mission!
Huge thanks to all that are helping to make this our reality!

Mike and Mary

Team KENDA - Intense