Series champ closes out season a long way from home

Words by Essence Florie • Photos by Kasey Carames

Ashland, Oregon. Known for its quaint college town, Shakespeare festivals, and of course its incredible trails. Riding in Ashland is like going in to a mystical land with beautiful towering trees, running rivers, and never-ending greenery. It’s always a joy to explore riding in areas that are unlike anything where I live in Irvine, California.

The first time I went up to Ashland all I could think about was how loooong the drive was (approximately 11.5 hours for me). But the second we started winding through the beautiful hills of Shasta-Trinity National Forest, I knew we were going to some place special. And this trip was no different.

Friday was practice day. As usual. It had snowed on the top half of Mount Ashland. Not so usual! Team Midpack and I went out to practice, bright and early, and quickly realized we needed a few more layers when dark luminous clouds started to cover our windshields with snow. Although I couldn’t feel my face on my practice run down the mountain, I knew I was smiling the whole way down. There was something so magical about the snow that made practice not feel so much like practice any more and more like one big mountain biking adventure with your friends. If there is any moment I will remember the most from this race it will be those moments of tromping through the snow on my bike with my friends hooting and hollering all the way down the white peaceful mountain.

Saturday — race day — came way too quickly. With an early 7am shuttle or pedal up start (depending on your category), all athletes were pretty much finding their way to the mountain in the dark. Luckily race day decided to be much more gracious to us and spared us the freezing cold snow. Although it would have made racing a little more adventurous, it was nice to be able to feel my fingers and toes just a little more.

Pro men and women started on Stage 3 — the queen stage in EWS terms — a mixture of four different trails all linked together. This stage was 15-20 minutes long depending on how fast you could pedal. With some swooping turns, rocky bits, and some decent climbs, it was a terribly rough one to start out on when you felt like you still needed to warm up. I’m pretty sure other athletes besides just me had to remind themselves halfway through the stage that they were still racing so they wouldn’t forget. Talk about needing to add in some long sprint efforts into your workout routine!

Stage 4 ran on Lizard and Jabberwocky — personally, one of my favorites! It started off with some fun bike park type jumps and long sweeping berms then shot you into the trees for some tight squirrelly fun. You had to stay on your game on those tight tracks through the trees because at any moment you could have easily shot right off the edge of the trail. It made it all the more fun to challenge yourself to push your speed and yet at the same time not fly right off the cliff.

Stage 5 was our shortest stage. With a little jaunt of a climb up through a neighborhood above Lithia Park, you were up to BTI in no time. This stage was also tight and fast like Stage 4 but it had a fast straight away to start you off right with as much speed as possible which slingshot you into the first corner. With this stage being closest to the venue it was easy for family and friends to hang around this stage and cheer you on. My personal favorite were these two little girls screaming, “I love your helmet!” I knew someone would eventually appreciate my pumpkin colored lid!

Next came the dreaded climb. With 8.5 miles and 2,500 feet to climb you definitely have a lot of time to think about your race, your life, even life after death. I found myself turning on my music and just pedaling away to my own personal cadence. I reflected on this year, my races, what I was proud of, what I wish I could have done better. It reminded me that this time on the bike is important, although a lot of us enduro racers don’t like to climb for two hours straight. Time to be lost in the woods, stuck with your own thoughts, and reflect on your progress is pivotal as an athlete. It reminds you that at the end of the day it doesn’t matter about how you did, because eventually someone else who is better, faster, harder working etc. than you will come along. What matters is that you gave your best. Because your best is all you can ever ask to give.

Before I knew it, I was at the top of Stage 1 with a sore back and aching legs. I took some time to stretch it out and remind myself of the lines I wanted to take. Horn Gap was going to be a quick trail and I needed to put my full energy, or what was left of it, into this stage. I asked for a ghost for the rider in front of me and the playful timing guy started dancing around and hooting like a ghost. It made me laugh hard enough to forget the pain I was in so that I could get ready to race again.

Stage 2 was the final stage for pro men and women. My friends and I smiled with glee knowing that this wasn’t just the last stage, but it was the final stage of our whole season! All I could think about was all the off season training I wanted to do like yoga, swimming, surfing, running, hiking, pretty much anything besides train on my bike. (Yes, even pros get tired of doing the same activity over and over again at some point). Hitt Road was a fun fast paced trail with some fun long sweeping corners that spit you right back out into the city of Ashland. With a final stroke of a pedal, that was it. It was over!

All the hard work and stress of the season was done. All that was left was to put on some warm cozy clothes and hang out with friends enjoying dinner and drinks provided by our race organizers. We ate and laughed. I taught some of Team Midpack to do some dance moves while other friends taught us how to Samba. We waited expectantly to see if our raffle ticket got pulled. We joked around to make others laugh with inventing funny new ways to get people onto the podium. And at the end of the day we crashed into bed with smiles on our faces and on our hearts knowing that even if we won or lost we made unforgettable memories with unforgettable people. And I know, at least for myself, I can’t wait to make more.

Essence Florie did her first pro enduro race at the 2015 China Peak Enduro, a stop on the California Enduro Series China Peak schedule. It was love at first race. She immediately felt that enduro was the perfect sport for her, combining both her fitness and technical downhill riding abilities. She began officially racing pro the year after in 2017 focusing mainly on CES. In addition to racing, Florie is also a dancer, choreographer, teacher, has her Bachelors in Exercise Science, and Masters in Education.

Florie is grateful for the team support she has received from Ibis in the 2018 racing season as well as their their continued support into the 2019 season. She is also sponsored by Fox, DVO suspension, G-Form, Kenda, Industry nine, Langtown Racing, and Praxxis. Photo: Ian Hylands.