high school

We're in the Character Building Business (Race #3)

I don’t know that any teenager joins a high school mountain bike team to “build character” but lining up for your first race ever in the pouring rain after being on the team for only a week’s time is surely character building. If you survive the damn thing and come out on the other end with a smile on your face, like new team rider Hunter did during our third race, then I’d say you might just be in for a career as a character contractor. At the very least I’d say you’re hooked on the whole mountain bike thing. 

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For race #3 our race crew was paired down to three riders. Jacob, entering his second race ever, new rider Hunter, his first, and our most veteran racer to date, Sergio, lining up for his third consecutive race. 

I met up with Hunter at Richmond High where we busted Sergio out of the office, telling the principal Deleon “Sergio is a rider on a mountain bike team and we’ve got a race tomorrow in Monterey. We have to go pre-ride the course.” With an expression that fell somewhere between consternation and concern, the principal paused before letting out a long slow “OhhhhKaaaay, so I guess we’ll call his parents to make sure?” I could read between the lines and upturned eyebrows. Was this even real?

”I met up with his parents last night at their house.” I said “They know. They’ve been to a race. They’ll be there again.”

Mom was called, thumbs were turned up, lights turned green. We loaded up and pointed the car southward on what has been our bi-weekly mountain bike racing pilgrimage to Monterey for the past month. 

As soon as the tires started turning, the chatter and excitement turned up. Hunter was full of questions. Sergio was his usual coy self, smiling boyishly when asked about his pre-race mentality or what it felt like to come through the finish line at a race knowing you’ve left everything you had out on the course. We talked and talked and talked. The aniticipation was building like a kettle on the burner about to whistle.

Photo by Coach Morgan

Photo by Coach Morgan

Time flew and before we knew it we’d shed the city grime and were feasting our eyes on rolling green vistas and the entrance to Fort Ord. It was time to stretch the legs on the race course for a pre-ride. Hunter got his race plate and we took off, winding along the sandy flowing singletrack that defines Fort Ord. 

After the pre-ride we ate, set up camp, told stories around the campfire and then knocked out for an early rise the next morning. Coach Morgan from Oakland Composite happened to pull into the neighboring campsite and joined us around the fire to share sage experience from years coaching a standout team. 

Race Day

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Saturday morning we awoke to dry-ish tents and broke camp in record time. The sky was full of clouds but glimmers of light filtered through as the sun rose giving promise for a rainless race day [cue a chuckle from the rain gods] . We made our way to the race venue and unloaded our meager team gear from the trusty “Prius truck” and set up--10x10 canopy tent, 6 ft folding table, white board, a milkcrate of tools and a floor pump. 

“It’s time to eat!” We headed over to our friends and generous pit hosts Berkeley High for something warm and delicious to fuel the races ahead. Following breakfast we took care of odds and ends, remaining prep, lots of hellos and headed over to cheer on the ladies as they started their race. 

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Race days work kind of like a roller coaster. You labor and work to get up to race day and then when you get there you throw your hands up, holler and let gravity do it’s thing. It’s one thing to the next, non stop stimulation and excitement for eight hours. Once the ladies are off and racing the next wave of racers (freshman and sophomore boys) are getting ready to warm up. 

Before we know it it’s 3, 2, 1, GO and Jacob and Sergio are on course powering up the first gravel hill leaving only a dust cloud in their wake. The rest of our team goes into support mode. We cheer, we look out for riders on course, we hand up water bottles and yell like hell when we see a Richmond Composite rider on course. Coach Doug headed out to the midway point of the course to help motivate Sergio up a tough gravel climb. Sergio responded by finishing the climb and then powering off to catch the next rider. 

As the Freshman/Sophomore boys race was nearing its end, light rain began to fall. The rain was exciting, a fitting end to a hard race, until the rain quickly escalated from light to hard to insane in a matter of seconds. Sergio and Jacob were yet to come in from their race as the rain intensified. Do we look out for our riders finishing up or go check on our tent and equipment that was loosely strewn about in the sun filled morning some 10 minutes earlier? Do we welcome Sergio and Jacob with congratulations at the finish line or go try and contain the chaos that the incoming storm was surely unleashing on our pitzone? Yeah, let the rain come down and the wind howl, we’ve got racers coming in hot! Can’t miss that. 

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Racers were spotted and embraced as they rolled through the finish line completing their final lap with rain soaked faces and exasperated smiles. This time, however, the finish celebrations were cut a bit short in an attempt to go address the weather situation. 

Everyone rushed over to our tent where team members, parents and random folks were dancing around as if playing a big game of tag where the rain was “it.” There was someone holding each leg of the tent, while someone frantically wrapped duct tape around bent tent legs as if bandaging a warrior in the battlefield mid fight. Spare bikes were duct taped to the tent as anchors as well, in our team effort to keep it from flying away. Everything was wet. The clothes, the backpacks, the signs, the tools, the people, everything. Rain pooled and poured off of our beaten tent canopy, adding insult to injury and turning the scramble to recover in the face of such unrelenting rain into pure comedy. Imagine trying to bail out of a sinking dingy with a slotted spoon. That was us. 

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After the most intense part of the storm passed, we started to collect ourselves and our belongings. Well, some of us did. Some of us had to race. While Sergio and Jacob and remaining supporters helped turn our pitzone right side up, Hunter headed out on a warm up. 

With all the calamity we were a bit short on time for warming up. Plus it was wet. We scrounged up some type of rain shell for Hunter and headed out to try and get in the zone for racing. Focus was hard to come by with all the rain, but we did our best to work through pre-race nerves by mashing pedals and just marveling at what a crazy start to Hunter’s mountain bike racing career this was. 

Photo by Tom Low

Photo by Tom Low

Hunter lined up with the rest of the pack of JV and Varsity boys and took off up the start hill when the countdown got to 1. And the rain fell on. And we waited patiently for a sign of Hunter coming back through the start/finish after lap 1. When we spotted him after about 30 minutes, his spirits seemed high. His head was up, we exchanged words, he took a new full water bottle and I think he even smiled a bit. Or maybe it was a grimace.  I’ll choose to remember it as a smile. 

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Lap after lap Hunter came round with determination. He was going to finish. And the way he was drinking a bottle per lap and eating snacks I had no doubts he’d be crossing the finish line shortly. We waited cheering on other familiar faces on course until we spotted Hunter crawling up the last hill before the end.

“Here comes Hunter! Let’s get to the finish line NOW!” All of the team gathered at the finish line to welcome him in. There was even a group of solid student riders from another team all lined up at the finish line with pots and pans and other noise makers giving some serious energy to riders coming in.

Hunter rolled through looking exhausted but alive. He rolled right through the finish line and right through the finish shoot (an area where riders collect before leaving the course completely) and off into the distance. Hunter couldn’t stop. “Hunter, where are you going?” He rolled on. 

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Experience and his face told me like a boomerang he’d be heading back to our pit area to our home away from home, familiar faces and food, oh sweet calories. As soon as we arrived to our busted tent, Hunter was off his bike and jogging away. “I gotta go cheer for those guys still coming in. There aren’t many of them but they deserve some support at the finish line. They’re working their butts off out there.” Hunter uttered in motion towards the finish line. Moments later Hunter was hanging over the finish line fencing with a gang of 15 others cheering his tired lungs off in support of his competitors. “That is an incredible team attitude.” I said to whomever was around me at the time. “Incredible.”

We started cleaning up and just as we finished it was time for podiums. Since Hunter was our first rider in the JV/Varsity race we got to stick around for the final celebration. The top girls and boys from each race get announced and walk up to some podium steps to stand tall in front of the crowd and celebrate their hard work and accomplishments. We snap photos and cheer    and tell stories about the living legends we’ve been racing with. “That’s Noah Hayes?” Sergio asks. “Yep, he’s won every Varsity race this season.” I respond,  “And that’s Max McFadden. He’s a junior and came in right on Noah’s wheel. He’s fast as hell, and as nice of a person as he is a talented bike racer.”

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After podiums wrap up, we chat with racers, coaches and parents giving congratulations, hugs and high fives. Sergio and I found ourselves in a circle with Coach Morgan from Oakland Composite, Noah Hayes and his mom. “Give me three sentences to sum up your race Noah.” Asks Coach Morgan. Noah’s been asked this countless times post race now but he answers earnestly, honestly, and humbly as if he doesn’t have it all figured out yet. He explains some micro details about his race (which are really big things at the front of a race) including nutrition and strategy with the other racers. He tells a riveting short story about what was unfolding lap after lap, attack after attack, mud drop in the face after mud drop in the mouth. We’re right there with him.

Then Morgan asks him to share a bit of his journey to getting to today with Sergio. Again Noah is kind and sincere opening up to our promising Freshman racer Sergio. He asks Sergio questions, makes connections between the two and when Sergio tells him his favorite part of biking is going fast up hills, Noah laughs and says “If that’s where you’re at now, you’re off to a great start. That was NOT my favorite part of mountain biking when I started. Work hard and keep at it. Put in the time-and it does take a lot of time. And listen to your coaches.”

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We jumped in the car and like riding down Main st. in the homecoming parade, we waved and said slow goodbyes to everyone as we rolled out of the venue and back north to Richmond.  After three races I’d like to think we’ve got this whole thing figured out. And if by “figured out” you mean we’ve embraced the chaos and go-with-the-flow attitude needed to roll with all the punches that race day throws at you then I’d agree. We’re dialed.

Race #4, here we come! 

Winning the Fun Category (Race 2 Recap)

Race Week

When Monday of race week rolls around the mind begins to shift into planning mode. Logistics and prep take a front seat as plans begin to shake out.

Are you coming? Do you need a ride? Where are you staying? Are you camping? Are you racing? Is your family coming? Is your bike in working order? Have you registered? Do you have a sleeping bag? And on and on and on.

Add in a few practices during the week and the days leading up to the race seem to fly by in a blur of to-do lists and endless follow up. But then you wake up and it’s Friday morning. You pack the car, check your final to-do list and like pushing the pedals at the beginning of a long ride, before you know it you're off and the adventure begins.

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Race Day Eve

After a pretty steep first race learning curve we were feeling more settled as we drove down to Monterey on Friday afternoon for our second race. We left earlier, traffic wasn't as bad, the playlist was fire and the conversation moved from race questions and anticipation to immigration, school, work, the weather. We arrived to the race venue at Laguna Seca to the roar of Porsches burning rubber on the nearby car race track, an audible reminder that we too were there to burn some laps on the adjacent dirt. 

Six of us suited up in the parking lot, fastened helmets and made our way to the starting line to ride a lap together and check out Laguna Seca for the first time. After a short fire road climb the course hit singletrack and then picked up speed on a wide open fire road descent. It was short lived though. Before we knew it we were grunting up a paved climb that led into a super steep and rutted dirt section in the trees. After we punched up to the top things leveled out just long enough to catch our breaths before turning downward on a flowy singletrack trail that brought smiles to everyone's face. 

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From chapparal to open fields, the trail twisted and turned through open meadows, alive with the green of springtime. The course was as lively as the dozens of other preriding teams out on course with us, exchanging hellos and “Hey aren’t we lucky to be out here?” sentiments. 

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We made our way up the infamous “Hurl Hill“ without losing our lunch (bonus!) and kept right on going through to the feed zone stopping to take in the sweeping views and talk strategy. “When you get to this part of the course on your last lap, grab a gear and TURN IT UP all the way to the finish!”

We collected in the parking lot and chatted about how each rider would approach the course the next day-when to go hard, when to ease up and recover, when to make a pass or let someone go. Then, we packed up the bikes and drove to our nearby campsite. 

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At the campsite we got settled into our sites, unpacked and started setting up tents. With the sun setting overlooking a valley below we raced to blow up sleeping pads and stake down everything before our natural light was lost for the day.   

We loaded up again to head to dinner where we’d meet up with another part of our crew, two more student athletes and another coach. We ordered two extra large pizzas and gathered together to catch up and wait for two delicious pies to come our way. Hungry, we dove in as soon as the pizzas hit the table, but not before snapping a pic of our stellar crew. 

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After dinner we caravaned back to the campsite where we got to work lighting a campfire and settling in for our nighttime activities. Lily and Alex had joined us in the car that arrived for dinner and we not planning on racing the next day. They took it upon themselves instead to bring the night activities and food extravaganza. As soon as the fire was lit, the bacon came out, the jalapeños were cut, a pot went on the grill with eggs inside and the picnic table turned into a bustling food prep area. We would be dining on jalapeño poppers with cream cheese and bacon to start and subsequent courses would get more interesting. 

 

After some good laughs and delicious culinary adventures kids started peeling off to their tents, the telltale sign it is time for bed. As the logs turned from flames to embers students could be heard drifting off into dreamland. 

Race Day

We awoke just past dawn to dew covered tents and a misty morning with fog flitting through the adjacent hillsides. Tents were shook, slumbers interrupted and student grumbles heard. “It’s race day! It’s race day! Get up, it’s race day!” 

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We loaded up again and took off to the race venue to set up our team canopy tent and get ready for the day ahead.  We arrived around 7:20am and the venue was already abuzz with activity. Grills were going, coffee was being poured and we were running around fixing things, headed to registration, greeting arriving riders and coaches and getting the blood flowing for a long day ahead. 

Before we knew it it was time to warm up. Coaches and student riders jumped on bikes and took to some nearby white gravel roads to spin up the legs and get ready to explode on the race course. We passed by San Francisco Composite as we warmed up, going in opposite directions as we got in the zone.

After warming up we headed back to our team area for last minute tasks including water bottle fill ups, snacks and some mechanical fixes. Then we shuttled up to the start line to find our place in our race groups. It was Harrison’s first race and so he chatted with other riders from Alameda and Oakland as they waited nervously for their turn to race. 

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In the first wave of Richmond Composite riders was Sophomore Harrison Rivera. He was a mix of nerves, excitement and pure steel cool. As he  settled into the starting shoot and awaited his turn, waves of racers ahead were released. Then it was Harrison’s turn. 

The countdown ensued and his wave was off. Spectating you could see something wasn’t right with Harrison’s bike right out of the gate. He was frantically mashing the pedal down and then rotating it back half a turn before mashing it again. He was going nowhere. His chain, we’d find out shortly, had sucked down in between two chainrings and would need to be yanked free by hand. Coaches and another non-racing student rider jumped in to help Harrison free himself of his mechanical issue and hopefully continue the race. We got lucky and after fussing with the chain for a minute or two the pedals were turning again and Harrison was on his way, powering up the starting hill motivated by the setback to play catch-up. Within a short minute Harrison could be seen flying solo down the open fire road descent with determination in his eyes. He was finally off.

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In the next wave were three of our Freshman riders, Emilio, William and Sergio. Although it was the second race for all of them, nerves had been creeping into their minds all morning. Some manifested the nervousness with focus and quiet. Others darted around physically and verbally like an animal pacing, ready to make an escape dash at any moment. 

Their race started and riders began scrambling in the chaos for a better position as they worked their way up the starting gravel hill before the trail narrowed to singletrack. Teammates, parents and coaches cheered like hell for our riders. 

After the dust had settled on the last wave of racers our remaining team switched gears to support and cheer mode. Four non racers started the long journey out to the feed zone and beyond to Hurl Hill to provide mental support, water and nutrition as riders came close to finishing each lap. 

William had a crash that took him out of the race on the first lap and wound him up in the medical tent. When we found him he was telling stories and in good spirits wrapped in an emergency blanket eager to share what had happened. Harrison finished a second lap and called it good for his first race. He’d had a crash too and many subsequent issues with the chain that got stuck at the beginning of the race. He was beat! Emilio and Sergio had gone back and forth their entire race and came to the finish line just one second apart from each other--a great site to see. 

We ate lunch in the Berkeley High tent (Thank You BHSMTB!) and then circled up for our closing gratitude circle. Harrison got a lot of love for racing his first race and overcoming many challenges on the course today and somehow coming out all smiles. New parents came out for the first time to witness high school mountain biking and were blown away by the support and community present at these races. Four of our team riders (Donovan, Alex, Lily, Lucas) who came to support but not race this weekend got lots of shout outs too. They brought so much spirit and enthusiasm to our race weekend and exemplified what a team is all about. 

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Our final race in Monterey is in less than two weeks and then we're heading north to Sacramento, Clear Lake and Petaluma for the remaining races of the season. If our team keeps showing up how we've been showing up--with positivity, enthusiasm and community spirit--then we'll continue winning in the fun category. And if there's one thing Richmond Composite is serious about it's winning all the fun

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Special Note

Join us in person on Wednesday March 28th from 6-8pm at Clif Bar in Emeryville for a team fundraiser including food, drinks, a short talk with student riders and coaches and a showing of the incredible documentary "Singletrack High".

Info & Tickets can be found at https://richmondcomposite.brownpapertickets.com/

What happens at a Fun Ride?

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When you arrive to a Fun Ride you see bikes everywhere. They are leaned up against trees, on their sides in lines and likely being pedaled around a skills course made of orange cones. There are people too, the friendly kind, ready to say hello, extend a hand and welcome you to the group. 

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We circle up and introduce ourselves to the group and get oriented to the bikes we’re about to ride—brakes, air, shifters, seat height and more. Then before you know it we’re all pushing the pedals, off to ride the skills course and practice some new mountain bike skills like “ready position” or switchbacks!

After we practice, we go explore. At our October 22nd Fun Ride we rode along the Richmond Greenway, a largely paved bike/pedestrian pathway that runs though the heart of Richmond. We stopped to play in the future site of “Dirt World” where someday (hopefully soon) Richmond will have a world class dirt pump track and skills park. In the meantime we’ll still enjoy the dirt rollers and mini pump track. 

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At our second Fun Ride on Saturday November 4th we were riding at Miller Knox park along the shoreline near Point Richmond. We started on grass and did our best to avoid pavement as we snaked our way through picnic areas and BBQ pits toward the gravel and dirt trails out by the point. Whoops and hollers were heard as tires spit mud out in a rooster tail out the bike—signs that we were now indeed mountain biking. 

Once out at the point we took in the views. We could see the Golden Gate, Bay and Richmond/San Rafael bridges as well as seemingly every Island in the Bay. We took it all in, handed out some maps to help show where we’d be going next, snapped a few photos and jumped back on the bikes. 

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We continued our ride out along the Bay Trail, a protected bike path that runs along much of the Richmond area shoreline. We stoped to share some Richmond history and see how our piers and shoreline is being used today. Oh, and of course we ride!

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We reached our turning around point at the end of a leg of the Bay Trail and had to take a couple more pictures, tell a few more stories and point out where we’d be riding November 12th at Alvarado Park which could be seen as we traced the Wildcat Canyon ridgeline to it’s northern terminus.  

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We turned around and jammed back the way we came, making sure to hit as much dirt, gravel and some fun singletrack on the way back, practicing our ready position and switchbacks with finess! When we returned high fives were given generously, favorite parts of the day were shared and a hearty “See you next week at Alvarado Park!” Was exclaimed. “Hands in. Richmond Composite on three. 1...2...3!”

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Want to get involved? Join us for a remaining Fun Ride by clicking this link. All are welcome and we’ll even bring you a bike! We ride again: 

Sunday November 12th @ Alvarado Park - 10am-12:30pm

Sunday November 26th @ Point Pinole - 10am-12:30pm

Volunteering in Richmond for Coastal Clean Up Day

Saturday September 16th was Coastal Clean Up Day, an international event where people around the world volunteer to help clean up litter in our communities and creeks that end up in the ocean. We teamed up with Trips for Kids (from Marin) and YES Nature to Neighborhoods to volunteer and help get local Richmond area youth on mountain bikes for the first time to learn some skills, ride the Richmond Greenway and of course pitch in for Coastal Clean Up. 

Sarah practices her "smooth and even" braking with textbook two fingers on each brake lever

Sarah practices her "smooth and even" braking with textbook two fingers on each brake lever

After a great introduction students got on their bikes and Trips for Kids led a fun orientation to the bikes--how they brake, shift, how to check the air in the tires--and we were on our way weaving through an orange cone skills course laid out on the grass at Nicholl Park. 

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After mastering the skills course we hit the Richmond Greenway, having to hike our bikes up and over the BART tracks on a tall staircase. Students were getting the best of urban riding right out of the gate including learning how to navigate city obstacles like huge concrete stairs and learning how to carry a bike safely. 

Making out way over the BART tracks and safely down the other side to access the Richmond Greenway

Making out way over the BART tracks and safely down the other side to access the Richmond Greenway

Once we hit the greenway, we were off! We wound our way down the paved path until meeting up with other volunteers from the community for a clean up. Over the next hour we spread out in teams on foot and proceeded to clean up the area around the Richmond Greenway next to Dirt World. When we were finished we celebrated the dozens of bags of trash we'd picked up and marveled at the many strange findings--fake tree with christmas lights, stripped bicycle with a santa hat seat cover, Rick James LP album cover--wondering where they are came from and how we could each take action to reduce our consumption moving forward. 

This was all picked up from the Richmond Greenway in about 2 blocks distance. We passed much more along our way that day that needed picking up. 

This was all picked up from the Richmond Greenway in about 2 blocks distance. We passed much more along our way that day that needed picking up. 

After the clean up we made our way to the western edge of the greenway before turning around and making our way back, stopping at a number of sites along the way to take in some of the beauty, mystery and challenges that make up Richmond. We ended with high fives and Clif Bars back where we started. Students shared something they were going to take away from the day. I can't remember all the words, but the general feeling was of gratitude, responsibility and a high level of stoke to ride bikes together in their community. 

We've got some fun announcements very soon that came from this great day out. Stay tuned!

50 points if you can tell us who this mural is of?

50 points if you can tell us who this mural is of?