Current CES Pro Women leader returns to home turf

Words by Essence Florie • Photos by Kasey Carames

Florie with fellow pro athletes Spencer Rathkamp and Anneke Beerten.

Big Bear, California. The honored location of the first US Open of Mountain Biking to come to the west coast. The fifth round of the California Enduro Series. The final stop of the EWS North American Enduro Series. Plus … Downhill, Dual Slalom, Next Gen Youth Downhill, and Best Whip Competition. My personal stomping grounds, along with Rachel Strait, since I was a little girl. Let the racing begin!

Ever since I was ten years old, most of my weekends were spent racing cross country all around Snow Summit mountain in Big Bear Lake. Although now my focus is enduro, it still brings back old memories of racing on this old mountain now that I’m an adult with an extensive racing career behind me. Sometimes it seems like each trail tries to show me memories of my younger self that I don’t even remember.

Friday was a day filled with practice and fun. Since this race is so close to home for me, I actually got to travel up and stay with a lot of my hometown friends from high school and college. It was amazing. I love getting to share racing with my OG homies. But that’s the magical part about biking, it allows all of us to remain friends through life’s greatest challenges: time and distance. We practiced as if we were a gang of outsiders. Traveling in a pack of ten from one stage to the next. Even with a large range of speed and riding styles, we still were able to practice with one another and help each other get motivated for each stage of the race. The trails were dusty and there was no shortage of pedaling, but either way we were all pumped for race day.

To keep the stoke going after practice, we rode back to our cabin, which was right next to summit (a must-have when racing at Big Bear), and got ready to go to the lake. Big Bear not only has an awesome mountain to ride on, it also has a very beautiful lake that’s perfect for swimming, rock jumping, boating, or just hanging around with the homies. The beautiful views and chill water are perfect for a little ice bath and pre-race relaxation.

Snow Summit Bike Park is located in Big Bear Lake. The town’s namesake lake offers swimming, paddling, boating and more.

Saturday. Race Day. We all woke up with nerves in our stomachs. It was hard to eat breakfast even though you know you need to. For me especially, I was nervous; with it being my stomping grounds, I wanted more than anything to do well. I did my pre-race bike check with The Bike Company, a must for me to feel race ready, then I hurried off to the lifts to get to the start of my race. Not going to lie, I was a little late for my start, which definitely amplified the nerves. Pro tip: always give at least 20 minutes to get up the chair lift — they take longer than you think. Right when I rolled up to Stage 1, I was sent. No time to get in my zone. No time to focus on the trail. I think that’s part of the reason why my first stage time was so bad. But no time to think about that now, I was already on course.

Florie says Stage 1 “was one of those ‘I hope I did enough sprint training pre-race!’ kind of stages.”

I’m pretty sure mid Stage 1, aka Pirates, I was tasting blood. Breathing was incredibly hard … I really need to warm up before I race, I told myself. Definitely won’t be late next time. The transfer to Stage 2 was quick. Luckily, all of us pro women had time to catch our breath a little. And by catch our breath I mean cough out our lungs. The dust and elevation don’t mix well up in Big Bear.

I was looking forward to Stage 2, aka Plumbers, more than Pirates … or so I thought. See, Pirates was one of those stages that you knew you were going to be pedaling your brains out the whole time. One of those “I hope I did enough sprint training pre-race!” kind of stages. Plumbers was a little more flowy. Or so you thought, until you got to the end of Stage 2 and remembered that there was a big pedal sprint finish. A look at the Garmin to check to see how close the racer behind you came in. More or less than 30 seconds? It seems pretty close to 30 seconds or less. Time to step the game up a bit.

Transferring up to Stage 3, aka Fall Line, was a longer one up the fire road allowing time for us pro ladies to chat about racing and life. The beautiful part about enduro is the time you have between stages to really get to know one another. It’s probably my favorite part about racing enduro. I truly think that if you aren’t getting to know and connect with the people around you while you are racing, you are really missing out on the full experience. Anneke Beerten and I talked about life and how short it is on our climb to Stage 3. And how we as racers should be helping the next generation of women who will race after us to know what to expect and how they should be treated by the biking industry. Those are the beautiful talks that make racing so great.

Top of stage 3. Enough chit chat. Time to focus again. Fall Line was a crowd favorite this weekend. It’s fast, flowy, some tricky little rock sections, and finishes off with a high-speed section. Afterwards you have an nice easy fire road pedal back to the venue where you can fuel up, chip in, and get back on the chair to make it to Stage 4, aka Dickies.

Florie charging Stage 3, a flowy run with “tricky little rock sections.”

Stage 4 was the loner stage. Stages 1-3 were all on one side of the mountain while Stage 4 was on the complete other side of the mountain all by itself. So sad. It was also the shortest stage. Although it was lonely and short, it was definitely mighty. On this stage, I went after Anneke, and all I could see was her perfect sprinting form throughout the entire first half of the stage. So much power, yet completely smooth and steady all at the same time. This is one stage I knew I was going to have to lay it all down if I was going to make some good time. Every second counted. I tried to emulate the perfect sprinting form that Anneke had showed me just before I went off and then tried to keep my legs from becoming jello once I hit the high speed technical section. But before I could blink, it was over! Definitely one of those stages that you didn’t want to make a mistake on.

Finally we had one stage left. We pedaled back to the venue, chipped in and went up the chair to wait our turn to come down the mountain. It was time for Stage 5, aka Miracle Mile. The downhill run. The big show. We had to line up in number order for our run so that whoever had the fastest time would get to sit in the Hot Seat. If you don’t know what a Hot Seat is, basically it means you’re the fastest to go down the run and you get to sit like a mighty king or queen feeling awesome about your run until the next fastest person comes down and dethrones you with their fast time. Luckily it’s not Game of Thrones and no one dies during this dethroning process.

As we were waiting our turn to go after the Master Men I got a text from my dad asking if I wanted to know where I was ranked so far. Anyone who knows me knows I don’t like to know my times during the race because I like to race every run as if it were the only run. I like to race every race as if it were a race against myself. I don’t check times after every run because then I’m comparing myself to other people not just myself. But since we had a long wait and it was almost the end of the race I said sure, hit me. He said I was sitting third but only one second behind second place. ONE SECOND! Talk about making every second in your life count. I knew what I had to do.

My number was 33 (fun fact: that’s Jill Kintner’s lucky number) which meant I was the first to go because I was the lowest number in the Pro Women’s field. I was nervous. The pressure was on. I needed to make up that one second on this stage if I was going to make it in to second place. Seems like a little, but in racing every second is earned with a struggle.

The countdown began. The race was on. I sprinted through the start flying into the first rock sections, barely even touching the ground over the first two drops. I felt my heart in my throat after every turn, whispering to myself “you’re good, but push it!” Whipping around the wooden bridge and over brick pavers I was coming into the last few turns of the trail. With a hard push out of the trees I was sprinting to the last two berms. Don’t touch the brakes. Push into the berm. Tuck it over the jump. Pedal! Pedal!! Pedal!!! Through the finish. I could barely breathe let alone think, but all I could hear was “Essence takes the Hot Seat!” YES!!

I don’t know if I walked or crawled over to the Hot Seat but somehow I found myself sitting in it. Another woman comes down, “Essence is still in the Hot Seat!” Another. And another. And another! It was too good to be true. There was only one Pro Woman left to wait for, Anneke Beerten. She whipped through the finish and I looked at the clock eagerly … she beat my stage time by 6/10 of a second! Although I was sad to lose the Hot Seat, I was so proud to see how close I had gotten to Anneke’s time.

Florie is grateful for the amazing support group she has in her life.

Anneke won the whole race by 14 seconds, but I had made up my time, plus some, and found myself sliding into second place. I was beyond ecstatic.

The announcer asked if I had anyone I wanted to give a shout out to, I said, “Yes! All my good friends who came up here with me to race: Cully, Danny, Colin, and JJ.” Although everyone else in the crowd may not have known who they were (for some of them, it was their very first race in beginner!) it didn’t matter to me, because whether we realize it or not the people who have the longest lasting effect on our life are those we are closest to. It’s the people who are actually physically there in our lives. The people you sit around the table and eat dinner with. The people you share your victories and losses with. Not the famous people who win races all the time. Not the people that you never get to talk to and only stalk on Instagram. It’s our family and friends who show up every day to be there for us when it means the most.

So, here’s a shout out to our family, friends, and all our competition who continue to inspire us every day to become better than we were yesterday. Here’s a shout out to those who have watched me grow up through many seasons of racing. From my very first beginner XC race as a little girl in Big Bear, to my fourth year of racing pro enduro as a married woman. Never under estimate your impact on those around you.

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.