Adventure. Travel. Race.
With a little over five months from the last time I took to the start in Transcascadia, the first race of 2017 came up all too soon -- we had a pretty rough winter with over 108" of snow in the town of Hood River between December and February. Typically, we get about 10" a year, so you can imagine the chaos that ensued in town for those few months. And training, don't even talk to me about training. Our winter training grounds were snowed in up until about three weeks before we left for Portugal, meaning most of our training time was spent indoors this winter, leaving us with some serious nerves before the first race of the year.
We arrived to the island about two weeks before the Enduro World Series to take advantage of some much needed R&R (and warm weather!), and get to know our bikes a little. Trails in the East (EWS race tracks) were closed when we arrived, so we focused our time on the west side of the island, where the reportedly "flow" trails were. "Jardim do Mar" was our home base, the Jewel of the Sea, known for it's surf waves, and sunsets. Jeremy of Bikculture was our guide for the first week, showing us all the island had to offer: Black Line, Red Line, Avalanche, Patrica and more.
Riding on the island is other-worldy -- Madeira is very mountainous, lush and volcanic, meaning there are microclimates everywhere! About every 200m, the vegetation and weather seems to change, and with it the dirt, and the level of tackiness. We would start up high in the fog, clouds spitting rain, as we dropped into a slick rock chute of a trail. This would then ease up and turn into treeless green grass/cow pasture (Keep your mouth closed!), with chunder rocks abound. We'd then strip jackets, and drop even lower into a Eucalyptus forest with clay for dirt. This clay was insanely slick, taking riders out left and right. Yet even lower, we'd hit the tacky goods and levada gaps, ending the day at the local poncha bar (Our new favorite drink: Fresh orange juice, rum and honey).
While we're on the topic, levadas are "open canals" developed in the early 16th century to distribute water from the rainfall heavy and wet regions of the north to the drier, sun-parched regions of the South. As you're riding along, you'll come across one of these levadas and either have a fun traverse along it to the next trail, or cross it via road gap - FUN!
A few days before practice started, we moved to the East side of the island, to Machico (EWS home base) and met up with the Santa Cruz Factory Team, for plenty of good eats, North island shuttles, go-cart racing, and more. Our two days of practice came and went, as did the rain, leaving every racer questioning their tire choice, as tracks were as slick as ice. The tracks were like nothing we'd ever ridden before in terms of dirt and terrain, as they changed so quickly within each stage as well as between stages.
Day One: Stage 1 was super physical, Stage 2 short, cake-muddy, and pedaly. Stage 3, "Porto da Cruz" was an ancient single track brought back to life by the event organizers. One of the longest stages, it began with about 1.5 miles of slick rock, with significant exposure along the side of the trail -- don't even try to touch your brakes here! Stage 4 was the last of day 1, and the first real stage in which we could make a turn -- steep and sandy through the Eucalyptus Forest.
Day Two: Stage 5 reminded me of Oregon -- the most hard-packed stage of the event, puddles, and plenty of lush ferns, then it got slick as snot. Stage 6 was short and sweet, with one steep, slick, muddy section, and plenty of awkward off-camber chunky turns near the bottom. Stage 7 was amazing -- wide-open, to rocky chute, to a road crossing and into the wet roots! About the only stage so far where I felt like home. Stage 8 was mind-blowing, with the trail traversing a cliff-edge along the Atlantic Ocean. Steep, loamy switchbacks opened into a fast riverbed-like trail near the bottom of the 8-minute trail. Stage 9 was just cool -- starting in people's backyards and ending right above the town of Machico.
Race day came and went -- transfers weren't too bad, and the rain held off. Stage 8 was my absolute favorite with the highlights of the day riding with all the lovely shredder ladies, immersed in local culture, and ending the day with Nick, all smiles, having completed another EWS! Thanks for all the love and support, Santa Cruz Factory/Allan/Jim!