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Courtney Ferrell, 30

The train’s running by while you’re doing this. You sort of make it through together. Then if you want to cruise, you cruise when you get to the flat parts. This is hard for me [jumping from rock to rock in the James]. Is this pathetic? I’m not a fearless person. I don’t want to get hurt. But then I’ll see some 15-year-old in flip-flops and a miniskirt walk right over it. There’s no path; there’s this yellow-orange line. ... You’re just taking leaps of faith, which is creepy and fun at the same time. You’re like a panda bear in the middle of eucalyptus.

What draws people to this, aside from a certain group that tries to win, is everybody is out here for a story. You know, “What did you do today? Did you fall off? When were you dying? When were you, like, Aw, I saw you there, man!” … There’s this camaraderie that comes with putting yourself through something and surviving the test. It’s instant. Everybody wants to sit down and talk about it afterward.

With Xterra the small athletic niche comes alive; that’s what’s so exciting. And Richmond answers it well. It’s such a great day because you have highs and lows. It’s all about what kind of experience you want to have. You can’t control what the weather is going to be like. You can’t control if you’re going to lose that chain on your bike or get a flat tire, or if you’ll eat it on that hill right there, which is pretty scary. All you can do is show up and try to have fun through the whole thing.

You try to best how you did last year. And you know the trail. If some root tripped you last year, you’re going to remember that when you come around to it. On all the super-crazy hills like this one, you have a crowd of people down at the bottom, waiting. Secretly, they want you to fall — because it’s entertainment. They want to see the person come down and eat it and be right there. And you have to be the one who jumps off your bike and carries it down. — As told to Brandon Walters

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