by Hazel Brewster

She is a 19 year old avid mountain biker. She rides for UVM Cycling Team where she is pursing a double major in psychology and political science. She was born and raised in Vermont.

This past week, I had the opportunity to race in the Collegiate Mountain Bike National Championships for the University of Vermont. I’m not exaggerating when I say that it may have been one of the most epic series of races to ever take place. Epic because when people ask how it went, my first instinct is to say “I survived,” and how thankful I was to come home to Vermont in one piece.

In fact, after coming home and reflecting on it all, and since it’s the season of giving thanks, I found I was thankful for so many things that took place down in Snowshoe, West Virginia. 

I’m thankful for our minivan, with over a quarter of a million miles on it, which survived the trip down, and took us safely all the way home; for my chauffeur/bike-mechanic/biggest fan/dad, and the Mountain Dew that powered him through twelve hours of driving to and from West Virginia; for Snowshoe Mountain Resort being at the top of the mountain rather than the base and the all-encompassing elements Mother Nature had in store for us at 5,000’; and for Thursday night’s rain, and Friday night’s snow, but that the weather held off until after course walks, so I could take in the West Virginia foliage before the mayhem started. 

I’m thankful for mud, slick mud, clay mud, frozen mud, mud that manages to get into places in your bike you didn't even know existed, and oh yeah, more mud.

I’m thankful for UVM Cycling and that our team brought their sense of humor with them down the east coast.

I’m thankful for my cycling fairy godmother back home in Vermont who made Christmas come a bit early this year.

I’m thankful that somehow I managed to submit a statistics project, psychology paper, and all of my politics homework on time, from 700 miles away, between races. 

I’m thankful for a washing machine that could put up with endless loads of laundry and for finding a high-pressure hose when every other one at the resort froze. 

I’m thankful for the absurd amount of peppermint tea I consumed and the entire bowl of Stovetop Stuffing I ate after my last race.

I’m thankful for FaceTime and its ability to keep my mom back home in Vermont in the loop. 

I’m thankful that West Virginia dirt turned into high-quality mud at an alarming rate. 

I’m thankful for full finger gloves and my winter jacket when it was 16 degrees on the start line, and for the heater in the condo that thawed my bike out after it spent a night on the porch in the snow.

I’m thankful for the two seconds of warmth when riding by the course marshal’s fire and shelter, because at that point Collegiate Nationals had turned into an episode of Man vs. Wild.

I’m thankful for the miracle that is wool socks. 

I’m thankful for being stubborn when it came to refusing to run the impromptu CX log barriers section and the time I gained riding it instead.

I am thankful for first row call-ups and all but the first and last lap of short-track being a blur.

I’m thankful for whoever was brilliant enough to put salt down on the course going through the resort village the morning after it snowed to thaw the ice.  

I'm thankful there was enough rad singletrack to (momentarily) forgive USA Cycling for the three dirt road climbs from hell, and for legs that put up with being put through five races in three days.

I’m thankful for surviving the 40 mph wind gusts at the start gate of the downhill race and that my pinky finger survived its fist fight with a few trees on the way down.

I’m thankful my little brother wasn't too mad when he realized that I may or may not have smuggled his downhill bike to West Virginia with me to race on without his complete knowledge.

I’m thankful for making it down the slip ’n slide that was the downhill course in one piece.

Did I mention I was thankful for mud?

In general, I’m extremely thankful for experiencing, and surviving, the apocalypse.

Thankful that after seeing my breakfast a second, third, AND fourth time before my XC race, I managed to get my nerves under control to have one of the best races of my life; for the teammates that ran down the steepest hill in the course, met me halfway, and then ran all the way back up it with me every lap, and for all of the high-fives and fist bumps; for coming across the finish line to hear the announcer say I got 4th place, and knowing my best had been good enough for a spot on the podium; for the absurd time gaps my teammate Nick Lando gave me to work with in the team relay;  for sharing the podiums with other badass women who shred on two wheels, and for our whole UVM team fitting (barely) on the second step of the podium for the team overall.

I’m thankful for my dad, who I swear had a stunt double because he was in a million places at once to take pictures, make sure my bike was running smoothly, taking my jacket after call-ups, be my #1 cheerleader, and be there at the finish line for a hug. 

I’m thankful for taking 6th, 5th, 4th, 3rd, and 2nd places across the weekend, and that getting everything but 1st will motivate me when I’m stuck on the trainer inside this winter. Because, after nationals, I would say I’ve had my fill of winter already this year. 

I’m thankful for meeting women like me from the across the country, who are just as excited about the rise in numbers of women who love to ride and race as I am.

I’m thankful for a bike, that for the most part, withstood being beat up by Mother Nature for a couple days.

More than anything Collegiate Nationals made me thankful for being in a place where so many people my age, who genuinely love everything about being on two wheels, came together.