Recently, I was lucky enough to spend two weeks in the United States with Kenny Gilbert. My trip’s purpose was to do another Grand National Cross Country (GNCC) race, as the previous year I had done two (Steele Creek, North Carolina and Big Buck, South Carolina).Snowshoe fit into my leave plans, but was probably not the best race to do as it is billed as the hardest of the thirteen race series. They allow a two-week break before the race that did not allow me to fit in another race. Next year if I am brave enough, they may start the series with two races one week after the other? Maybe not.Kenny was eager that I start riding as soon as possible. Barely off the plane and I was on a bike. Weather was much kinder than last year that had been exceptionally wet, raining almost every day. This time, the ground was dry and easier to ride on. It could still be slick if it was hard. Weaving past trees easier, my speed was awful. Kenny and Vance boiled their bikes having to go too slowly. They decided I should follow them for the first loop and then ride it at my own pace, leaving them to race each other.I enjoyed being taken to several tracks and was spoiled by almost never riding the same line twice. The variety was great and helped me build confidence on unseen trails. I’m not sure if that actually made me ride any faster, but I did make fewer mistakes.The trip was all about Snowshoe. It is a ski resort in West Virginia normally frequented by mountain bikers in the summer months. We were fortunate enough to be allowed to race dirt bikes there.David crewed for us, which was a blessing and he also did most of the driving. The journey was quicker in Kenny’s truck compared to a camper so we had booked a room in the resort. It was still a long drive, taking eight hours. Leaving a little late resulted in us arriving at 3:00am. Security had to be called to let us in which they did remarkably quickly – sure we were not the last to arrive.Two of Kenny’s friends from Massachusetts (Joe and Matt) shared the accommodation. Matt had broken his leg and could not ride. This was fortunate for me as it was his bike that I was riding. I rode the same bike I have back home. Last year I rode a 450 that was not a party. The terrain was also more suited for a two-stroke.Saturday morning was the obligatory course walk. I did not get much further than the three-mile mark. Difficult was an understatement. I decided it was better to save my energy and mental stability and enjoy a good lunch instead.Diner was early for an early night. Not much more to do.Sunday morning started with the sound of juniors racing. Their race is at 8:00am, my amateur morning race was at 10:00am and pro afternoon race is at 1:00pm. Our truck was already parked in the pit lane. All I needed to do was unload my bike and kit up. Did need to run once to twice to the toilet – not feeling well all of a sudden. In no time I was sitting on row 57 waiting for the race to start. The obligatory procedures followed – route explained, option to withdraw given, a prayer, the national anthem and so on. We started in rows of five bikes at ten second intervals. In no time I was on the start line.This is it, my row was started and around the first bend, dead last. Going to plan, I told myself to take it easy. My heart was pounding away. Off the tar onto gravel and down we went into some trees. Left, right, keep the bike upright. By this time a rider from the row behind me had caught up. Give him some space. No dust, watch out for mud. I had walked this section and knew what I was heading for. No real rush. A bottleneck had formed. It cleared far too quickly and off I was again.Slipping and sliding down a hill with some mud baths thrown in on any flat ground. Almost at the bottom now. I could hear bikes being revved and then our first hill climb, it was not going to be easy. This was more than a bottleneck; it was a bike parking lot. My mental state was not unique. I just knew I was not going to get this right the first time. Decided to take a high line, which was less crowded. Spun the back wheel and slipped to a stop. Pushed and pulled and fought my way forward. Needed to take a few rests along the way. Rejoined the track and continued on a thankfully slightly easier section.Mud, roots and rocks made for an almost unpredictable ride. Trees to go into, ruts to get swallowed in and slopes to slide down. Fatigue set in and I became less cautious. Somehow things start to go better and I found myself enjoying the ride. This is fun. It is actually fun. Bring it on. This is why I ride, for the challenge and this was exceeded all my skills yet I still manage to continue moving forward. Admittedly, at a snails pace.The mother of all climbs approached. Had bikes passing me in the opposite direction. Things were not going to be pretty. I found another bike parking lot, this time almost covering the entire length of the climb. What was I to do? After catching my breath I gave it my best shot – did not get far. I was not the only one at least. Turned around and tried again. A little better this time. After three failed attempts I made it up the first section. From there it was a nightmare to get past riders. I failed hopelessly and had to rather patiently wait for the rider in front of me to move forward. The climb consumed most of my race time effectively limiting me to one lap. A blessing considering I would at least not have to conquer that hill again.Half the race done when I got to the top. On the other side we had a change of terrain. We rode on forest roads on ski slopes. Time for a little pace, unfortunately, was not able to change programs. Did some fast flowing down-hills and up-hills. A few forest sections thrown in just to slow things down and to get covered in mud again.Thankful to see the finish flag. One lap was enough entertainment for me. I had leaned a few things, maybe a race is not the best place, too bad, that is the way it worked out. So many more things to try and improve on. For that alone it was just the best experience.I parked the bike and had a shower in time to watch the pros tackle the route. They demolished the climbs as if they were leading an invasion with noise, speed and pure fury. Riding at its best. I did see a few not getting it exactly right, yet in no time back on their bikes, throttle wide open.So the day ended and back home we went. Kenny finished eight in his class. Me, twentieth in my class of twenty-three finishers. Great memories. Unfortunately, I had a plane to catch.Thanks to Kenny, David and Vance for allowing me the opportunity of a glimpse of top level riding. I am forever grateful for your hospitality and patience. Hope to try this all again next year.