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Barbarella: The Barbara Howe diary

Just as Barbarella bumps through the universe, comically oblivious to the dangers and threats being thrust at her, Barbara Howe has had a few misadventures of her own. After an illness-filled season in 2006, the 31 year-old Velo Bella rider is working to get her fitness back in 2007. Although 'cross is still the favorite discipline of the Marin County, California resident, Howe is returning to action by racing her mountain bike. When not training on and around Mt Tamalpais, she keeps busy cooking and sewing.

Follow the fortunes of this free-spirited individual here on Cyclingnews.

July 5, 2007

Heat, Hills and swimming holes

The Nevada City weekend was one of great highs and lows. Sunday was the 47th annual Tour of Nevada City and I was eager to race having won the 45th edition of the race, and was hoping for a good result. Nevada City is a very cute old mining town in the foothills of the Sierra, meaning that there is nothing flat: everything is either up or down.

The course starts and finishes on a steep downhill, and at the bottom of the hill is a sharp left followed by and even sharper off camber left. It then heads up, up, up around various corners and up various pitches to the top, 120 vertical feet later (36.576m). Finishing speeds regularly exceed 40mph and the bottom corners have claimed many victims.

The bottom corner claimed it's share of victims.
Photo ©: Barb Howe
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The spectators are great at this race - they line the course and get rowdier as the day goes on. Josh and I found a great parking spot, often a trick in a tiny town with narrow streets. I headed out to overheat - uh, I mean, warm up before the race. Two years ago when I won the race my legs had been divinely inspired and I would have gladly raced a few more laps. This year, the deity responsible for my legs has not been responding to my sacrifices and offerings.

We started, I struggled, and a few laps later I was popped off the main group and rode around with my teammate Stella for the rest of the race. After an eternity Shelley came past me following the lead motorcycle, thank goodness, I had about as much as I could take. Plus I was starting to get goose bumps from the heat on my arms despite repeatedly dousing myself with water.

After the finish line I rode around the corners then pulled off the course, glad to be finished. Many of the racers kept on riding and finished one more lap causing major confusion in my addled brain. There were no lap cards and I assumed that it had been Shelley's last lap also making it my last lap. Then I started to wonder if it was her second to last lap and I had inadvertently quit the race one lap early. After a few minutes of worrying about it I just gave up, got some water then rolled back to the car. Josh and I had lunch at an outdoor café then headed out of town to find a nice spot on the river for a swim. The best part of the weekend was yet to happen.

Trailside S&M
Photo ©: Rachel Lloyd
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A few miles out of town we stopped at one of the best swim holes I've ever been to. I miss swimming in rivers. Growing up in a city with three big rivers and being surrounded by so many smaller ones in the Appalachians the west seems very dry to me. Plus in the Bay Area there's just not a good abundance of clean clear rivers.

We found a pool that was clear, deep and empty of other people. The cool water felt good on my legs and still overheated brain. Feeling much refreshed, Josh and I pushed onwards towards our next destination, Downieville. Downievile is another small mining town in the Sierra's that has benefited from cyclists. The old mining trails that wind along steep hillsides above the rivers are bike legal and loads of fun.

People are still prospecting for gold, and you can often see their equipment in the river. On the town bulletin board there are sometimes ads posted with claims for sale. I haven't ridden there in years - in fact the last time I rode in Downieville I walked large portions of the trail and cried a lot because everything seemed way too hard and scary. I was now ready to avenge myself and check out the cross-country course of the Downieville Classic, an epic point-to-point race in mid July.

Rachel and her Nomad
Photo ©: Josh Snead
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We camped by the Yuba River and only narrowly avoided being sucked dry by mosquitoes. Early Monday morning we met Rachel Lloyd (second place in Nevada City) for the pre-ride. She was waiting for Yuba Expeditions to open to try out the Santa Cruz Nomad that she'd be riding while she guides the fourth edition of the Santa Cruz Hell Ride.

We caught a shuttle to Sierra City and started up the long grinder climb that starts the course. The climb goes on for a long time, eight miles and over four thousand feet (1,219.2m) of vertical gain later you get to go back down. We missed a turn, skipped the infamous baby head section, rode part of the famous downhill, then caught back on to the cross country course and almost finished before Josh flatted.

He hit some glass or a sharp rock and put a big enough hole in his tire that it needed a tube. After rolling back into town we iced our legs in the river, hung out with Rachel, had some lunch, then headed back to our favorite swimming hole. After round two at the best swimming hole ever, it was time to face reality and head back to the bay. After a quick stop for burritos at the Taco Tree in Auburn we were set for the night. I'm looking to going back to the mountains to ride, Josh can't wait to go back and look for gold.

Till next time,


For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here

Images by Josh Snead

Images by Barb Howe

Images by Rachel Lloyd