Tuesday, March 29, 2005

WINTERGREEN

With my ever advancing age of over 40 now, I frequently think maybe it's time to stop downhill racing, which is actually just a euphemism for throwing myself down the side of a mountain on a bicycle; to give up sweltering in the hot sun wrapped in layers of body armor and a motocross helmet, waiting at a start line that I swear is only 5 feet away from the sun itself for the countdown letting me know that it's time once again to taunt death by hurtling myself and my bike through rocks and roots, wedging between tight trees down some several hundred or more feet of trail, just to see how fast I can do it. Yes, sometimes I think it's time to give that up.

Then, I'll go to a race like the Timber Rattler at Wintergreen, Virginia this past weekend. This event was truly an experiment in just how much fun downhill racing can be, for people of all ages and all ability levels. There were three separate downhill trails for the three basic categories - Beginner, Sport and Expert - so that everyone could be tested at the appropriate level for their respective skills. Each trail had varying amounts of rock gardens, steep chutes, twisty hairpin turns, jumps, drops, logs, etc., with each carefully gauged to fit the skill level of the riders for which it was designed. The builders took painstaking care to ensure a fair playing field for each race category's course. Even Mother Nature chimed in, giving us such beautiful clear blue skies that it almost looked painted that way. Few races I have attended have run as smoothly as this one - registration was a breeze, the ski timing equipment was precise, course marshals very helpful, spectators vociferously cheering on every single rider all along the courses, even ice-cold water provided both up top and at the bottom of the mountain for exhausted racers. And of course, the downhillers themselves, as usual, were nothing short of totally supportive of one another. I've often thought that going to a downhill race is more of a festival than a race. It's a time to meet up with friends that perhaps live too far away to visit otherwise, to share some friendly competition, and to learn from one another. I view the folks I race with more as family than competitors, and that was certainly true at Wintergreen this past weekend. The Timber Rattler definitely had a festive atmosphere going, all the way down to the final awards ceremony, which actually included a raffle based on race number plates, wherein everyone had an equal chance at going home with something cool. As a race venue, Wintergreen has it all - beautiful cross-country trails, a magnitude of downhill trails that boggles the mind, including a 7 mile downhill run that ends at the very bottom of the mountain, where you will be chauffeured back up top by the shuttle. But the best thing about this past weekend's race, for me anyway, were the memories I brought home of the first (annual, I hope) Timber Rattler downhill race at Wintergreen.

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