Posted April 22, 2004
Sea Otter circus '04

In this exciting report:

  • The [inner] journey
  • Dual slalom
  • Downhill
  • Mountain cross
  • Hospitality

  • Thanks to Chris from for the shots of Cedric Gracia.

    Whew. The Sea Otter has come and gone, and I am wrung out as always. Every year I catch a cold, and this year is no exception. The courses were fun, the racing was exciting and it was great to see the NorCal crew. So much amaxing stuff happens at Sea Otter, it's impossible to see it all, especially if you're racing. Here's what I saw from my little corner of the event:

    The [inner] journey
    I was the solo driving practitioner from Hell. From Boulder, through Wyoming, through Utah (with a stop in Salt Lake City for some quick parking lot sprints), through Nevada then back to the promised land, NorCal.

    Those 1,350 miles give you plenty of time to think. I tested my mental endurance with a strict no-CD, no-MP3 policy. When National Public radio turned to static I slapped in some self help tapes by Dr. Wayne Dyer. I know that sounds lame, but the lessons give you something to think about, and I'm all about becoming a better person (If you knew me, you'd know why!). I heard a whole lot of "blah blah blah," but these lessons managed to stick:

    You already have everything you need. Don't waste effort wishing you had more of this or less of that. You have the tools and abilities to accomplish your dreams. Put another way, "If you can see it, you can be it." Put another way, your body and your physical world are appropriate for the lessons your soul needs to learn.

    Our physical bodies are only 1 percent of who we are. The other 99 percent is ethereal -- our souls, our higher selves, our tire collections. As bike racers we get caught up in the strengths and limitations of our bodies. But real speed -- the flowy kind -- comes from inner confidence and a firm belief that you rip.

    Analysis is destructive. Synthesis is creative. I've always been a deliberate rider. While I was working on my and Lopes' technique book, I became even more robotic, going through the mental steps to execute each move. When you're teaching or learning a new skill, it makes sense to separate it into its individual parts. But real flow and enjoyment can only happen when you trust your ability to let things happen and just flow with it. I recently decided I do indeed know how to ride bikes, and it's time to trust that. Real creativity (and speed and fun) come when you let all of your abilities come together on the fly.

    Fighting weakens you. It isn't about beating the other guy; it's about doing your best. This totally applies to downhill, where you're by yourself. All smack talk aside, winning is pretty arbitrary; you never know who will bobble, cut the course or sandbag. Why waste energy worrying about the other racers? All you can hope for is a good, clean run. The rankings take care of themselves.

    Imagery is mental practice. if you imagine yourself a certain way, you will eventually become that way. Dr. Dyer probably intended this for losers who are afraid to sit on toilet seats, but it totally applies to visualizing your your riding and racing. If you imagine your run in enough detail, your brain thinks you're actually doing it.

    You must be willing to do whatever it takes. Sure, believe in your skills and your inner divinity and all that, but also be ready to work your ass off.

    Dual slalom
    The mountain cross and cross country courses made DeFiebre Hill more crowded than ever, but course designer Keith DeFiebre made up for decreased real estate with increased treachery. This course definitely rewarded BMXy gate starts, jumping and berm railing, but you couldn't do well unless you could handle, flat, of-camber and blown out corners. Keith packed a lot of challenge into a small space.

    When the gate dropped you gave it a few strokes, avoided the rock outcroppings, threaded a few tricky flat turns then entered a fun little quad section. I loved rolling the first two humps then hipping over the last two, already turning, already aiming for that first huge berm. The middle of the course contained standard Sea Otter fare: three-G berms and flowy jumps that made you say "wheeee!" Then came a few technical flat turns, the age-old road gap then an abbreviated sprint to the line. The course was so fun I wanted to cancel the race so we could session the course all day.

    This and that
    The line for practice was a lot shorter than in the past. Of course, this didn't stop people from cutting like crazy. The fastest riders tend to be the most blatant cutters. I dunno, maybe that's part of the race, being aggressive in line so you can get more practice. Maybe so, but that just ain't cool.

    My good bro' Jim Norman came out of semi-retirement and qualified first in Vet. Stoked! Here's some vintage Norman, out at Lime Ridge.

    The esteemed Brandon Sloan made it all the way to the finals and took a valiant second to Eddie Cerrone, who is basically a pro BMXer.

    My Coloradan pal Bobbi Watt gave NorCal queen bee Patty Lenz the business, taking the victory in expert women. Patty is accustomed to winning this event. When Bobbi goes pro soon, Patty will get back to winning expert.

    How I did
    When we walked the course Wednesday night, I was so excited I couldn't take it. I've been thinking about this race for an entire year, practicing like crazy, doing my sprints, lifting weights and the whole bit. I was completely confident and ready.

    I got up super early to get tons of practice. In my first run, when I landed the road gap I heard a clank. Weird. My bike felt funny. I took a look and -- holy crap -- my shock link and lower shock bolt were broken. Apparently the link had been cracked for a long time (I blame that brute Curtis Keene, who borrowed my bike for a few months.). Somehow, amid all that physical and mental training, I failed to check out my bike. That heavy curtain of self pity came crashing down on me, but there was no time for that.Practice time was running out. This was a test. Would I whine or dine? I rode back to camp and grabbed my Enduro, swapped the seatpost and pedals and got a few runs. After practice I cannibalized the Enduro link and bolt to make the SX whole again.

    In my first qualifying run I over-styled the little quad hip jump and lost a pedal. My foot hit the ground, got dragged backward and pulled my dangly bits into my 2.24 Moto Raptor rear tire. BUZZ! I stayed on the bike and rolled a semi-decent time, but let me tell you this: My funny business hurt all day, and I found a 2.24-inch scab on the back side of a place you don't want a scab. Another test, I guess. I found some focus and rode the second run like a rock star, all confident and pedaly, and posted the fourth fastest time in that lane. I wound up 12th overall.

    I got through the round of 32 without too much trouble. In the round of 16 I faced Eric "Mr. E" Brecheen of Mr. E's bike shop. I've beaten him before. In the first run, E made a mistake. I didn't. I had a 1.2-second advantage going into the second run. In line I chatted with some dudes, la dee da, like I had nothing important to do. When I got in the gate I was underpumped. I cruised. E charged and beat me by like 1.4 seconds. I was out. We gave each other a big hug. He was stoked. I was bummed. After all that preparation I'd just given it away. That's a piss poor way to get eliminated.

    Dang, that was fun.

    The course followed the same basic route as last year -- jumps at the top, swooping turns and the log drop in the midddle, a steep traverse, some pavement then a pedalfest to the finish -- but this year's edition was more technical, with new rutted turns after the log drop and more jumps everywhere.

    The third double is a booter.

    The first berm is so sweet.


    The big question of the weekend was, which bike are you running? Big or small? Short or tall? Tons of characters swore by their four-five-inch bikes. Mick Hannah won on his little bike. I went back and forth between my SX and my brand new Demo 9. We helmet-cammed runs on both bikes, which proved that while the SX felt faster, the Demo 9 was faster, at least for my cautious, pedaly style. I set up the big bike with XC tires -- 2.3 Weir Wolf in the front and a 2.1 Epic Wolf in the back -- and a firm pedaling platform. I just sat down and spun the whole way without worrying about lines and silly stuff like that.

    Me fixin' to pump the back of No. 3 on the little bike.

    Railing the first berm on the big bike.

    When I talked to Steve peat about downhill for my and Brian Lope's technique book (due out in Fall), he said he always practices full runs, at full speed, even hitting some sections at faster than race pace just to see what happens. Instead of my normal start-slow-and-hopefully-find-the-right-speed-in-the-race approach, I memorized the course on foot then pinned 12 practice runs over three days. When the race came along, I knew exactly how fast I could go without getting into trouble. My last run on the little bike was a 3:03.

    I finally did it!
    I have a long history of freaking out and blowing it at big races. This year I moved up to the 35-39 age group. I thought I'd have it made, until I saw ultrafast characters like Wild Bill rousell and Keith DeFiebre on the start list. These guys were winning expert and pro when I was mid-pack sport. I thought if I can be on the bottom of the podium with those guys, I'll be stoked. All I could do was my best, and that's what I set out to do. I knew the course, I felt good about my bike, and I went through all of my voodoo race-day preparations. I felt calm as I rolled into the start gate.

    Beep, beep, beep, beep, beep, BEEEEEEEEEEEP!

    I took off. Pedal pedal. Shift. Pedal pedal. Shift. My Demo 9 tracked through the flat, rutted corners. I sprinted at the rhythm section and downshifted in case I came up short. I sucked up the first little double, then the second, then the third -- a real kicker. As I arced over the gap, the wind slapped me to the left. For an instant I thought I'd crash, but then I just let my mind go blank. That big bike landed sideways -- ploosh -- and I started pedaling, right around the fourth jump, through excited yelling, up the No. 5 face into perfect back side, then over No. 6 into the berm and back on my race plan.

    My mind was still totally quiet, and my heart rate felt low. I pumped out of that berm, swung over the roller and sucked up the long table. I landed pedaling, upshifted and sat down, la dee da, like I was cruising to the store. Part of me thought, "Hey this is a race! Hammer!" but the rest of me was like, "Dude, relax. I have it under control." I carried full speed into the stepup, pedaled down the backside, spun up the traverse then downshifted for my favorite section: quick left-right berms followed by a roller, a chicane then the log drops. The main line went around the outside of the logs and carried ultra wide, turning the next corner into a scrambling hairpin. My line squared off, rode straight down the logs, pedaled across the grass then entered the corner from outside. This set me up for a nice, swoopy right-left-right-left progression and got me on the gas early for the long straight.

    I pedaled uphill in the saddle and yelled to my 20-second man that I was coming. He entered the narrow section, so all I could do was follow. Rutted left, fallaway right, open left, off camber right, then full speed down the fall line into a huge berm. I scrubbed speed to stay behind my guy, then passed him in a slow right. I pedaled over a little kicker, onto the pavement, carried speed up onto the sidehill then jumped back onto the road. I spun my 38x12 then tucked as I carried into a long right. My bike followed a narrow rut, and I resumed pedaling across the hill then over a sweet ski jump down, down, down and left.

    Now it was time to really pedal. I carried over a rise, hit the brakes, took the drop then got back on the gas. From here out I sucked up the jumps and made smooth power. When I saw the line I stood and sprinted for all I was worth, and the pain of oxygen debt finally set in.

    I heard the announcer say something like "Lee McCormack, breaking the three minute barrier!" The time flashed 2:59. People congratulated me. I had the fastest amateur time over the age of 25. I waited for the rest of my group, not believing I could have won. Finally Wild Bill came up to me and said congrats. STOKED! When Bill beat me in the 2002 slalom round of four, that was the greatest defeat of my life. I was just so happy to be there, I was crying on my way up to face him. Now this felt like the greatest victory ever. After a dozen years of racing, I'd finally believed in myself and done what I knew I could do. Dr. Wayne Dyer would be proud.

    Oh, by the way,


    I told him I'd do that. Now I'm in real trouble ...

    Mountain cross
    After my downhill run I was ready to spawn and die. My life cycle was complete, so I decided not to risk racing the mountain cross. The course had high speed and long jumps: fun but dicey. I was content with taking photos.

    These Vet Experts have 75 years of combined gate starts.

    Tensions run high in the first round

    After a drag race to the step-up, these guys are still jostling for lines.

    Stephen Cleeton. Twice as old as you. Ten times as strong.

    Nice low-high pass in the first turn. The dude in black squeezed out the other clowns.

    Taylor Calvert charges it. Here's more Taylor.

    More violence in Turn 1.

    Even more violence in Turn 1.

    Here is a huge thanks to the Goodman brothers, who put us up in their 38-foot travel trailer. Kevin cooked, cleaned and drove shuttle for my buddy Lars and me. I was all too happy to cook him breakfast on his race day (he placed 10th in his first-ever XC race; right on!).

    Kevin warming up Sunday morning with his tummy full of scrambled eggs and spinach.

    The man himself working his way through XC traffic on the final climb. As he went by he said, "Man, I sure could use some water." I was like, yeah, I'll bet he's thirsty ... then I realized he wanted me to give him some! I ran my bottle up to him, and Kevin got his water. It's the least I could do.

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