The Dirty Sanchez

A tale of hard work, determination and a positive attitude

By Lauren Gregg

Lauren rounds the corner through one of the many fast, muddy berms on The Dirty Sanchez course (Robert Lowe).

Lauren rounds the corner through one of the many fast, muddy berms on The Dirty Sanchez course (Robert Lowe).

I rolled the front tire of my mountain bike to the lip of the jump. Staring down at the edge where the dirt fell away, my eyes crossed over the deep divide to the landing. It was built up with massive logs that I envisioned my body crashing against if I failed to clear the gap. My heart raced. After retreating down the takeoff, I rode past the jump without hitting it. Continuing down the trail I was met with another jump, this one with a landing formed out of jagged boulders. Scanning down the trail I realized that once a rider cleared the gap, they had only a few seconds to prepare for another, larger jump that sent them flying over a side-by-side track below. I rode alongside these two features as well, apprehensively sizing them up. The trail continued flowing into well-built berms, through tight sections of manzanita groves, and over unpredictable rock gardens. I reached the bottom of the track in a rather stressed out daze as a side-by-side revved its engine and motored through the mud to pick me up and shuttle me back to the top of the course. Where was I? Was I in over my head? After throwing my bike over the back, I hopped inside and was met with a huge smile and a high five from the driver. I had been clenching my teeth, but this smile put me at ease. I was right where I was supposed to be, where my hard work over the past seven years had finally landed me.

I was at The Dirty Sanchez Enduro.

They don’t call it The Dirty Sanchez for nothing (Robert Lowe).

They don’t call it The Dirty Sanchez for nothing (Robert Lowe).

The Dirty Sanchez is an invite only pro Enduro held at an undisclosed location on private property in the hills of Northern California. I heard murmurings and legends about the race last season and was beyond thrilled when an invitation to the TDS arrived in my email inbox earlier this year. And now here I was at the event, somewhat terrified and not totally sure what was going on, but absolutely stoked. This situation mirrors the history of my cycling career. How had I gotten here?

The first time my tires touched dirt, I was riding my dad’s old mountain bike. The Rockhopper had been sitting in the garage collecting dust for years, I think my father only ever rode it once or twice. I was seventeen years old, disillusioned with suburban Los Angeles life, and looking for a direction. That first mountain bike ride was like discovering freedom for the first time. The adrenaline rush coupled with the access to previously unknown wilderness in my backyard had me instantly hooked. I rode every single day, and vowed to become a professional mountain biker.

Originally that goal seemed pretty unrealistic, coming from a girl who could barely get in and out of her new clipless pedals. But after googling mountain bike races in California, I signed up for the first race that popped up – Sea Otter Classic XC. Nervously I showed up to the start line of my race, not knowing what to expect, but everyone was super supportive and made me feel at ease. The course was challenging and I struggled to push myself around the lap as fast as I could. My finish was  less than impressive, but I took in the festival, all the positive energy, and the pro riders and industry professionals who had succeeded in making this world of bicycles their life. This inspired me to continue chasing my goal.

My next big race was the Downieville Classic – another event I signed up for after googling “mountain bike races”. I had never heard of Downieville and didn’t know anything about the race, and again traveled solo to the event with no time to preride the course. The night before the event, I overheard some backpackers call it the “Death Race” and realized I had no idea what I had signed up for. I showed up to the start line pretty terrified, and proceeded to walk or crash my way down almost the entire course. I was in way over my head. The rocky trails, to my unskilled eyes, looked completely impossible to ride. Pushing my bike down the hill and climbing over rocks was frustrating. It took me over four hours to finish the race that day. Finally crossing the finish line tired and beaten up, I looked around at the smiling dirty faces of all the riders. Their jubilant celebration made me smile. They had ridden the course, and one day so would I. I’ve been back to race Downieville every year since!

Lots of hard work, victories, and crashes ensued over the following years. I raced cross country and eventually reached my goal of racing Pro. The main key to my success was not how I trained or secured my victories, but keeping a good attitude and not letting anything discourage me. The most important thing was keeping my eye on the prize, and the prize was meeting new people, experiencing new amazing trails and places, and creating a lifestyle that I was stoked to be living through racing my bicycle. No bad race, crash, or technically demoralizing section of trail could take that away from me.

Racing cross country was a great experience for many seasons, but as I progressed it became more about training on the road bike and less about the aspects of mountain biking that I loved, like the adrenaline rush of flying through the woods. I needed a change, and Enduro started gaining popularity at the perfect time for me in my career. I tried out my first Enduro at the start of last season and never looked back.

Transitioning from racing cross country to gravity came with a whole new set of challenges, and the past year has been full of overcoming fears, gaining strength, and learning aggressive and technical riding skills. And finally … all of my hard work had landed me this invite to The Dirty Sanchez.

Marco Osborne flirts with disaster in the notorious Vigilante rock garden, riding out a legendary near-crash (Robert Lowe).

Marco Osborne flirts with disaster in the notorious Vigilante rock garden, riding out a legendary near-crash (Robert Lowe).

The TDS course is extremely technical, and only racers who have demonstrated the ability to handle gnarly features are invited to participate. My first couple of practice runs honestly felt like that first year at Downieville. Overwhelmed, I walked sections and was scared. At the bottom of my second run I took a moment to collect my thoughts. Was this a mistake, was I not supposed to be here? Yes, this course scared me, but I was not going to let it discourage me. Yes, I only started transitioning from XC to Enduro a little over a year ago, and the features on the TDS course seemed way over my head. But I’d been diligently putting in the hard work and now it was time to cash it out. It was go time.

The side-by-side reached the top of the course yet again, and I made a decision. I voiced my concerns and fears to some more experienced riders, and the supportive atmosphere of the TDS totally took over. Encouragement and motivation to push my limits was in endless supply from the other riders, and after a last deep breath I determinedly hopped on my bike and followed someone down the course. I hit the first gap and landed cleanly on the other side. Total empowerment. I hit the second, third, and continued to follow riders off features and down the stages. My heart rate had been elevated with fear, but now it was elevated with excitement as I cleared things I had never even considered hitting before. This supportive environment had fostered more progression in my riding in one day than in whole weeks and months of training. By the end of the day, I had hit every feature on the mountain. It was one of the most accomplished feelings I’ve ever had!

Plenty of opportunity for air time (Robert Lowe).

Plenty of opportunity for air time (Robert Lowe).

The race was two days and 12 stages of muddy mayhem. More than anything, the TDS is an endurance event that really tests racers’ ability to just keep going – survival riding. Not only were we hitting technical runs in crazy conditions, we were hitting them over and over again, stage after stage. All the racers were extremely tired and worn out (but still having the absolute best time). Riding the already difficult sections of trail in this exhausted state was demoralizing at points. For me, the goal is to have fun, enjoy the company of other riders, take in the entire experience, and ride as hard and as fast as I can. Despite the difficult conditions and countless crashes and mechanicals, racers at the TDS were in the best of spirits. Laughing and camaraderie echoed down the mountainside throughout the entire race.

And my result? On first inspection of the course, I wasn’t sure if I would even be able to make it through the race alive. But, I was able to ride my way to a 4th place finish in a stacked field of a dozen pro women. I really couldn’t believe it.

It’s been quite a journey that I wouldn’t trade for anything. I am forever grateful to all the riders who have supported me along the way, and I hope to be able to encourage others to push their limits and enjoy the ride.

Mark Weir shuttles WTB Cannondale pros in a side-by-side (Robert Lowe).

Mark Weir shuttles WTB Cannondale pros in a side-by-side (Robert Lowe).

Hitting an off-camber gap (Robert Lowe).

Lauren hits an off-camber gap (Robert Lowe).

Racers and spectators alike appreciate Ron Sanchez for the crazy good time he tirelessly orchestrates on his property every year (Robert Lowe).

Racers and spectators alike appreciate Ron Sanchez for the crazy good time he tirelessly orchestrates on his property every year (Robert Lowe).


TDS-FOX_1250Lauren Gregg is a professional mountain biker on a mission to explore new destinations and epic trails. She enjoys traveling, riding and racing bikes, and getting rad across the globe. Follow Lauren’s adventures on Instagram at instagram.com/lauren_gregg_ and Facebook at facebook.com/laurengregg55.

Read Lauren’s tips on how to succeed at mountain bike racing: Follow Your Passion: You Can Race, Too! Learn more about Lauren and her fellow female Enduro competitors: Ladies of Enduro.

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  1. Follow Your Passion – You Can Race, Too! | Adventure Sports Journal - […] Learn more about Lauren and her fellow female Enduro competitors: Ladies of Enduro. Read about Lauren’s inspiring path to mountain…

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