There was no time to think or take in the full realization that I was going half way around the world. With the multitude of business set-up endeavors, family events, and garden/home management, packing started late on Friday night. Saturday morning left time for a last garden check, house tidying, packing recheck and it was off to B-town. My travel to Norway was seamless, however when we pulled into the Nermo hotel/condos after nearly 20 hours of travel, exhaustion set in. It was only 4 in the afternoon, and we were encouraged to stay awake until evening to acclimate to the time change. At the Oslo airport I had joined up with the other members of the USA cycling team, XC/ DH (there was one trials rider this year as well,) and we bused together the 2 hour drive to Oyer, the town that houses Hafjell, the ski area/mountain resort that would be our host. By 8:30 we crashed hard.
Much of inland Norway is similar to Vermont. Green hills and valleys, with small farms and hay fields dotting the landscape. The trees are primarily large conifers with far fewer deciduous tress the back home, and the lakes are massive. Trails for biking/commuting (and skiing in the winter months) are everywhere. In many places the bike rack areas are brimming with activity and the car lots are sparse. There continues to be a hub of recognition and pride from the 1994 winter Olympics in Lillehammer, where the ski jumps are visible from a great distance. It is truly awesome to see an active and vibrant community at work. The Norwegian Kroner is worth far less then the dollar. 100 K is equivalent to about $15.30, however things in Norway are not cheep. Luckily throughout the trip I only purchased the few things that I brought back home as gifts and one beer, which alone clocked in at 100k ($15!).
“Officially self employed. World Champs. fluctuating between a sense of belonging and lack of self confidence….although the nervous emotions and anxiety of racing are torturous I need to remember that: 1) this is the only world champs I will experience as an athlete 2) I got here from being passionate about riding and working really hard 3) my one personal goal is to try my best.”
The first three days were a waiting game. No riding was allowed until Thursday. Time was filled by walking the course every day, treking all around hafjell, watching the XC racers practice, stretching/yoga, visiting with the mechanics and pedaling around the parking lots, all the while enjoying the awesome buffet meals Nermo had out for us morning, noon and night. Team USA brought along three PT/Physio/body work therapists. Twp were designated to the xc team, and one was for the DH team. Chanley, our DH team rolfer/masseuse extraordinaire quickly became a friend. As 30 something year old moms, on our first trip with the team we had the most in common. Having the opportunity to have body work was wonderful. I did get the opportunity put my PT skills to work the first couple days per the request of one of the coaches, and furthered the likelihood of being asked to travel with the team in future years as a physio with the added perk of having experience as an athlete as well.
In a cute and cozy condo I roomed with Jill Kitner (despite only having briefly meet once before was a great roommate,) who was super encouraging and easy to be around. It was awesome to hear Jill’s story about growing up as a BMX racer, taking the world BMX bronze medal in Beijing, then transitioning to DH MTBing. Watching Jill review her daily Gopro footage, make detailed drawn out maps of the course and talk through her mental preparation was impressive to see first hand. We shared the condo with four XC racers. It was quite provocative to merge the disciplines that we can each understand one another a bit more. It seems many of the XC racers did not understand how much time and effort downhillers put into racing, both in training and over the course of a 4 day event. I think rooming with these awe-inspiring ladies helped each of us respect the other discipline more.
“A few times this weekend I have wished I was an XC rider. Not having to wait around for days, riding so much, nothing too crazy to have to ride- but the skin tight suits and awkwardly set up bikes would be hard to handle…..the risk and fear of injury always looms over you…with my family and business this is more challenging than ever.”
Above: Ali on one of the massive start step-downs!
Thursday finally came and it was time to start riding the course. After not having been on my DH bike at all for over a week starting off with the ‘monter jumps’ was super intimidating. Despite having done jumps that big before, never four in a row. Yet, each time I rode they always felt good and it was a super fun albeit exciting start to the course. The upper woods sections went well. I stuck with the smoothest lines I found in course walking, and although not the fastest, they gave me confidence. The next section of the course was similar to a build up highlands track with jumps, super fast berms, and flow. The huge road gap with no lip looked like a huge pull to make the transition. Th guys were having trouble making it there first few attempts, which is never a good sign. Jill confided that none of the women were hitting it. Phew. The small road gap looked do-able, but when I stopped to watch it, a junior washed out really hard in the berm before it and was carted off my the medics. The sound of him moaning/screaming was not easy to get out of my head. My last 2 runs of the day were not as smooth as the first two.
“So nervous this morning my hands were a little shaky…these crazy tracks take everything vision, focus, drive, confidence, zeal and reckless abandon.”
Friday, more training. Every times I went up the lift my stomach would be dancing with butterflies. My goals for the day were to hit the smaller road gap, smooth out the rock garden line, get more comfortable with the steep R hander before the fast open section, and to smooth out the final wooden bridge jump. Practice started well. I was feeling good on the jumps and upper woods, the smaller road gap went well every time, my entrance to the rock garden and upper section was solid. The lower rock garden there were many lines. I found a couple that worked well for me, but had trouble on the exit. After watching a number of other women have trouble in the same spot I worked on a different line and finally found one that seemed to be the best for me. Not the fastest, but smooth and one I could get comfortable with. The Steep R hand turn that Jill coined her nemesis, had been going well all day.
The lower section of the course had been great the first day of training and continued to be where I felt the most confident. I pedaled a bit harder into the wooden jump and made the transition. On the last run of the day something went wrong fast in the steep R hand turn, and at the bottom of the compression with speed I went over the bars, flying off the course into the woods. The DH coach happened to observe the crash, and he and the course marshal were sure I was done-for. The looks on their faces when I got up, dusted myself off and gathered my bike was of shock. They asked me some questions, made sure I had my wits about me and let me continue on. Close Call, so thankful I was unscathed! However, that experience made me take a more conservative line on following runs.
“Digging deep to make it through the next two days. Doing my best, putting in my all. Part of me wants to tuck my tail and hide, but I owe this to myself to complete the task and finish!”
Saturday: On the lift at 6:45 am, and riding at 7am, by far the earliest I had ever DHed! My one run went well, and at 8:30 it was a timed run, which was a race practice and would not make any difference in seeding or standings. I was first to drop, and everything went well, until I rolled out of a berm in the open section, summer salted down the hill, lost my knee pads and was caught in the tape. Yet no worse for the wear I gathered myself and continued. Further down the course on the last jump a small tear in my shorts caught on my seat and ripped a huge tear. It must have looked pretty funny crossing the line with a gaping flapper in my ass. Practice over I had time to watch and cheer for local hero Lea Davison as she tore it up and pedaled off with the Bronze. Yeah Lea!!
Sunday finally came after a sleepless night. An intense blend of excitement and nerves were constantly there. A serious crash had happened on the upper jumps and after waiting a good 20 minutes, we were allowed to ride, but had to roll around the jumps as a medic was still working with the injured rider. My run went well, and I was confident that the jumps would go well despite not riding them, so I opted for one practice run. I went back to my room, listened to music, rested and tried to relax. Not an easy task.