Apparently The Sea Otter Classic is about bike racing, but not for me. I don’t race bikes, I don’t want to race bikes, I just want to ride bikes. In fact, I don’t particularly care about bike racing, is that wrong? With the exception of a few friends I have who happen to be professional cyclists, because I live in Boulder after all and it comes with the territory, I really don’t care much about race results. I care that my friends survived the race unscathed and that they are enjoying themselves, but that’s about it. For me, Sea Otter is about a big community hang out and hug and it feels good to be here.
A few years ago I didn’t really know what Sea Otter was. Jon started coming to this event with the Skratch Labs crew. I knew it was a lot of logistics and work with very little time to actually ride bikes and enjoy life outside the venue. I knew it was an opportunity for Jon to see many friends in one place, but that was it. I didn’t really understand how busy he could be and how impossible it was for him to respond to messages from me. I mean really, was he that busy?
The day after we were at the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013, he left to head to California for this cycling event and he kind of disappeared on me. It was impossible to digest what we had been through when he was engulfed by this event. I didn’t get it. I was mad and it made me feel isolated. But then, in 2014, I attended Sea Otter as part of the Skratch team and it all made sense. The hustle and bustle of serving up delicious food and hydration to needy athletes and spectators is no joke. People stopping by the booth to smile and wave at Jon, Allen and the crew was a real thing that required time and energy. From sun up to sun down the game was on with consumer engagement, cookie empowerment, hugs and high fives. Sea Otter is non-stop cycling industry love and it’s invigorating. It is also an endurance event of a different animal often leaving me with zero energy at the end of the day, barely able to get dinner in my tummy before rolling in to bed. Oh and riding bikes, barely possible. I only know Sea Otter as a vendor and it was not until I was a few days in to my first year working the event that I even knew there were races taking place. Apparently (insert sarcasm) Sea Otter is not a trade show, it’s about racing, huh?! As we have been asked to write about our time at Sea Otter, I continue to only know it as a vendor, or semi-retired vendor at this point, not as a race. I cannot, with any authenticity, talk about the races, events, result, big names, up and comers. I have no clue. The chatter this year was about an e-Mountain Bike race, which had everyone giggling. That’s all the ‘buzz’ I’ve got from my two days on the ground.
As we have mentioned, Jon has stepped away from his day to day life at Skratch Labs (but we will always be founding partners, bleeding pixels and fans of the brand for life) so attending Sea Otter 2016 has been for the love of the game, so to speak. It was our choice and for our enjoyment. For me this year Sea Otter was about a delightful obligation to ride the SRAM Open The Road with some friends. And that route was a game changer for this rider.
(Keep reading, this is the good stuff)
The Good Stuff (aka SRAM Open The Road Tour: Monterey Edition):
Before we went on the ride my friend Jen Agan, the consumer activator coordinator with the SRAM Open The Road Tour, told me that, upon our return from the ride, she wanted people to think about what their “1x and/or Open The Road” experience was. Um… ok. I literally didn’t understand what she meant. We are going to ride bikes, let’s just ride bikes, doubt I’ll have anything profound to say. While I still do not have anything succinctly profound to say, after that ride I am truthfully left with feelings of confidence, adventure and curiosity about where my “adventure bike” (Specialized Diverge) + SRAM 1x combination can take me.
I’ve said it before, and I mean it, I don’t like mountain biking. I like road and gravel, but technical single track is not my jam. When we started out on this ride and I heard we were heading for 10 miles of single track, I panicked. Luckily, Jon pre rode/scouted the course with SRAM’s Chris Zigmont and Sea Otter Founder Rick Sutton a few days before so he helped manage my expectations. He kept saying it’s not rutted out and it’s not technical, it’s fun. I didn’t believe him. Single track has never been fun for me, someone with some balance issues at baseline. I was fairly apprehensive about the ride in general as I’ve spent the first part of our life on the road battling a pretty good cold. However, it turns out, that 30 miles of heavy breathing on terrain just outside my comfort zone was just what the doctor ordered. The course was designed by Rick and took us around the back side of Laguna Seca and through Fort Ord on gravel and single track. IT.WAS.AWESOME. I was fairly scared at a few narrow spots with soft sand, but with Zigmont, Director of SRAM Road, behind me reminding me to keep pedaling and that I was “riding the sand like a Belgian”, I conquered some uncomfy terrain and remained rubber side down all day.
There were a lot of friends on this ride, but I happily took my spot at the back to hang with Jon & Nate, the assigned sweeps , and my friend Liz. Liz is living out here in Monterey with a former colleague of mine from Boulder. Liz rides, she’s an Iron(wo)man, she’s fit, she’s strong. So I invited her to ride a demo bike and give the ol’ SRAM 1x a whirl. I warned her before the ride that Jon said “it’s fun, but it’s going to be some work with soft sand and single track”. Pretty sure she missed everything having to do with the word dirt and focused on the invite for a road ride. This girl crushed the ride that was 100% outside her comfort zone on every level. She doesn’t wear high end gear, she isn’t handed components (which is why the opportunity to demo the 1x was exciting), she doesn’t wear tall socks, in fact she doesn’t wear socks.* Remember, she’s a triathlete. No cap, no arm warmers, no fancy luggage bag that fits all the fancy gear. Nope, this girl rolls up with a reusable grocery bag to house her wears and a desire to consume all the pastries pre-ride. Good on ya’ Liz.
But rather than recoil in the face of a bunch of people who certainly look like they know what they are doing, forget about the part where she had no idea who Meredith Miller & Jeremy Powers were, Liz’s personality was loud and present. She was funny, confident and more than capable of riding that alternating terrain which was anything but road. She was skidding and hopping, all the while cracking jokes with Zigmont, Rick and Wil Matthews the photographer. I would not have traded all the fitness and agility in the world to ride at the front of that pack because I would have missed the pure joy that was Liz Tree, opening the road.
So back to Jen’s question of what does “open the road” mean to me? It means open your mind to anyone who wants to explore anywhere on anything wearing whatever works and if all of that just happens to be on two wheels with rocking components that compliment an ever changing terrain with ease, well that’s the cherry on top.
So sure, there are pros walking around and big things happening in cycling at this event, but for me it continues to only be about community. I left behind a tremendous group of women cyclists on my Team ten20 back in Boulder. I’ve been worried about missing out of the nuances of riding in a community and all the yummy nuggets and success stories that happen throughout the season. But I’m reminded, yet again, that the cycling community, and associated industry community that is at Sea Otter, is ever present. All you need are some bikes and willing participants.
*After hanging with the Roaming Robos for 48 hours, Liz is now in possession of one cycling cap and one pair of tall socks, complements of SRAM, and was caught wearing said gear on a ride.