PAN AMERICAN CHAMPION!!

Just got back from Guatemala last night...what an amazing trip!

The trip was wild in so many ways...I felt like adapting to all of the changes was half the battle. The transport. The smog. The heat. The food. The terrain. The shuttles. The noise. The long days. The chaos. The lack of organization. The whole scene in general. I learned so much this past week. It was really good to do race like this...to get comfortable being uncomfortable. I think that is really what racing at a high level is all about. You have just got to take what comes and go with it and be smart and stay focused. This race really helped me to work some of the kinks out which I will undoubtably encounter over the this coming season on the World Cup circuit.

I got in a day earlier than the rest of the team so I had a day to myself which was pretty rad. Very few people spoke english so that was a challenge (my spanish came a long way this week!) but everyone was so nice to me and I made so many new friends immediately...they all took me in as one of their own!

The USA Team was awesome. We had a pretty good crew...lots of personalities which made for a lot of fun. It is good having a group like that...where no one is very close to begin with but by the end of the week everyone comes together. It was so awesome to have Lars Tribus with us as the sole Master representing the US...he has been racing mountain bikes since the mid-90's so the stories he has are absolutely legendary. The golden days of biking seemed so epic! I just loved the stories. We also had Scott Sharples with us...he is the new gravity coach for USA Cycling...he was such a rad person to have around...he just gets shit done, sugar coats nothing and has so much experience with racing it is impossible not to learn from him!

The track was honestly one of the most difficult tracks I have ever raced on, it was super fun to ride but just plain tricky. The top had a little step down and then about a minute of pedaling uphill and on a slight downhill with jumps. It was so hard having that big of a pedal and then going into tech stuff, you had to recover really quickly. From there you dropped off into a bigger step down and into steep loose corners which I looooved. Then it was onto the rocks. Usually rocks are a strength of mine but I really struggled with these rocks, the track was super narrow, it was like threading a needle and it wasn't very steep so it was really hard to keep flow and momentum. The rocks were also really square so if you messed up you were pretty much gonna flip over the bars. At the end of the track there was a pretty big jump too but after the jumps at national champs last year it was pretty much a no brainer. Hucking it like its hot is always fun. :)

I had a really bad qualifying run...I qualified 2nd but I was pretty confident that I could take the win going into the final because my run in general was forgettable and I saved all my energy. While the track was so fun to pin, I had to find a new approach to my final after hearing everyones qualifying horror stories. I knew that for the most part...it would be exactly the same situation in the final and people were going to try too hard on a track that you just have to relax on. I didn't take any risks or get loose, just tried to take it easy and ride smooth. I knew that there was a really good chance that I couldn't ride the whole track fast AND consistently...given my record in practice...I mean it could happen but I was not willing to risk it and I didn't feel like I had to risk it (not because there was a lack of talent!)...I was pretty sure everyone else was going to try too hard and cross that fine line which was exceptionally easy to cross on this track. The track was just so tricky and it was soooo easy to mess up and make very costly mistakes. My approach to the race worked and I ended up on top...and that is how I became Pan American Champion! I have never thought out a race like that before...I mean usually I just go but I really strategized at this race and it paid off. Pretty cool. This is the biggest race I have ever won and it feels pretty rad!

The boys did pretty well too...Lars crashed but still ended up 2nd in Masters and Joey ended up 3rd for Elite. I didn't get a chance to see a single boy come down which was a bit of a bummer...there was such a big crowd and I was just pumped to cheer everyone on. After I was done, I was escorted to anti-doping and didn't get out till the boys finished (during this time my Leatt and Smith goggles got stolen too.....lame!!!!) Oh, well. I was seriously so pumped for Joey though...he made a huge jump up to the Yeti World Cup Team this year and he has obviously been training hard so its pretty rad to see all the hard work pay off. He is definitly a ripper and will be one to watch this year! He has so much natural talent on the bike!

All in all the trip was just awesome. So many good times. There was a fruit stand on the mountain and we ate massive mangos on sticks everyday...I think I had like 4 one day but Joey won everyday with an average of 7!! We got police escorts everywhere we went...except for the first day...it was actually a scary experience, I was alone on a flatbed with my friend from El Salvador and he was actually freaking out. I asked a cop if I could hold his Uzzi...and he actually let me. WTF. There was a protest in 4X and all a bunch of people made a people wall on the track in protest...that was a first. I have too many sketchy shuttle stories to even list...100% of my sketchy shuttle stories come from this trip. The whole trip was an adventure and I just loved it!!

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TravelingKatie Holden