Manon Carpenter Sea Otter Chronicles - Dirt

Mountain Biking Magazine



Manon Carpenter Sea Otter Chronicles

Catch up with all the latest adventures of Madison Saracen rider Manon Carpenter as she hits up the Sea Otter festival.

Words and photos: Manon Carpenter


Okay, so this is a bit late – sorry! I’ve been up in the wilds of North Wales for the last week or so at a RedBull MTB camp so didn’t get a chance to sit down and write about our latest venture…


On Tuesday 17th April my alarm went off at 3 o’clock in the morning. After four hours sleep it was time to get up and drive to the airport, in a couple (well, quite a few) hours we would be in California for the Sea Otter Mountain Bike Festival and I couldn’t wait. It was the next international race of the year for us after South Africa WC and we consisted of team manager Will Longden, Harry Molloy, Philip Atwill and me.
First things first – weighing in! As always we had about a million bags and boxes at check in but we were flying with Virgin so they don’t normally mind about a few extra kilos…

In flight entertainment involved laughing at Phil’s very difficult driving theory revision cards as he had his test when got back… Who didn’t know that if the caravan you’re towing on the motorway begins to swerve on the motorway you should start steering sharply from side to side? There were also plenty of cards explaining how to carry out hand brake turns in the snow!

For most of us it was our first time in California and one thing we noticed on the first day was how different the food was! On the first day we didn’t have the best experience food wise after stopping off at a ghetto supermarket for macaroni pasta made with what looked like lard and finding this beast…

Pork Chops anyone?


After having what Will considers to be a lie in – an 8 o’clock start – we got ready to head over and check out the venue and the tracks. The DH track was even flatter than rumours let on, with quite a few uphill sections to Phil’s (and my) horror, but still looked fun. With flat out corners and rad jumps the whole way down it’s pretty much a BMX track for mountain bikes and we all couldn’t wait to ride it; racing it was what we weren’t looking forward to. We were also racing Dual Slalom, and that was one track I definitely was looking forward to racing! Similar to the DH track the Dual looked amazing fun with berms and jumps the whole way down the hill and I couldn’t wait for the Saturday to ride it.

Dual Slalom track

After walking the Dual Slalom we had some time to kill so we went for a wander around the venue to see what we could find…

One of the Chain Reaction boys was tied up on display 24/7, luckily they gave him a hat to keep the sun off him.

On the pumptrack where the speed and style competition was being held we found the ‘Magic Unicorn’ bike, not sure if you got extra points for bike fancy dress or not?!

I also found my next DH bike, forget 29” I’m going for tractor tyres!


After hanging around Sea Otter for a few hours we soon started to feel the sun and decided to drive into Monterey to find something to do indoors. It had been windy all day so it was only in the afternoon when the wind died down that we realised just how hot the sun had been. I was laughing at the boys’ sunburn for an hour or so until my burn started to show up – then the joke was definitely on me! I had mentioned to Will that there was a famous Aquarium in Monterey but was surprised when he actually wanted to go, but he did so we headed off in that direction with the boys dragging their heels behind us wondering why on earth we wanted to go and watch some fishes swim round in a tank.

Well the aquarium turned out to be really interesting and we spent at least twenty minutes watching this guy – he was huge! There were also plenty of things in the kid’s section to keep Phil amused…

Life-sized Giant Clam, big enough to swallow Phil…

…Harry was just happy to sit and look in the mirror for a while.

By the time we’d left the aquarium and had some food in the ridiculously good Fish Hopper restaurant I was starting to look pretty frazzled and wasn’t far off glowing, so I got into bed feeling sore and with a memo on my phone to pile on the sun cream the next day.

The aftermath of too much sun and badly applied sun cream!

Thursday and Friday

On these days all we had was a couple of hours of practice each morning so once that was done we had the day to ourselves. Most of this time was spent playing around on the hardtails on the Speed and Style pumptrack and trying to land backflips into the airbag…I tried a backflip into foam for the first time a month or so ago on my BMX so I thought I’d have a go on the HT – turns out it’s a lot harder! After landing on my head a couple of times I almost got it round but kept going over the bars on landing, so after a dead leg or two I decided I should probably call it a day…

This is McKenna Merton, a 9-year-old ripper from San Diego. I had an email from McKenna and her Dad, who used to be Will’s mechanic, a few weeks before Sea Otter saying she was going to be racing there and was really excited; she’d even made a World Champs t-shirt to get signed by all the current and ex-world champs at Sea Otter which was pretty cool.

On Friday afternoon after practise we went to watch McKenna racing the Dual Slalom and to see how the track was looking. McKenna looked tiny riding the track but was flying down it and was even kicking up roost in the final pedal!

McKenna in the slowest start gate in the World.

After watching the Dual and having another play on the pumptrack we went back to practise some gates at the motel. It’s safe to say gate starts definitely aren’t our strong point and Will was keen to sort out our techniques as best he could.

Unfortunately we didn’t get the Go-Pro out because as soon as Will got on the bike to demonstrate all hell broke loose! One second he was sprinting across the car park and the next he was sliding across the tarmac on his knees. As you can imagine watching your team manager crash in a flat car park is pretty amusing, especially when he got stuck in Phil’s clips and did it again just two minutes later!

Next up, shopping trip…All week Phil had been pestering Will to find a go-kart track but to no avail so he was over the moon when he found the electric mobility trolleys in the supermarket. Said it was his best shopping trip ever!

Doing donuts in the cereal isle.

Friday evening I had my first ever sushi experience… All I’m gonna say is slimy! The rest of it was good though…

‘Let’s go racing!’

Soon enough the weekend came around and it was race day. First up was the Dual Slalom and was it hot! Practise started early in the morning and by 9 o’clock I wasn’t far off a puddle of sweat on the floor, dreading how hot it was going to be by midday. Pushing up in practise in the baking sun was an effort but the track was riding ridiculously fast so it took quite a few runs to catch up with how quickly your bike was going down the track! After having not raced Dual Slalom since Crankworx last year it took me a while to get into it but it was really, really good fun.

Getting up to speed.

Once gate practise started I went to the top to get used to the start gate and found myself in the gate with Graves. I must have been pretty keen because I beat him out of the start gate… Only problem was I’d gone before the gate dropped and I went out headfirst leaving my bike behind me in the start hut!

Once I’d got up and dusted myself off he was out of sight, and I had to wait in the start gate laughing at myself for the next gate. This time I made sure I listened to the beeps properly!

I took it fairly steady in qualifying to save some energy for the finals but the boys didn’t have that choice. Over half the men’s field was cut out with only 32 going through to the finals so times were extremely tight and many had to settle with watching the finals from the side-lines. Luckily, seeing as I qualified Will let me have the VIP lunch pass to go chill out and get some quality grub before the finals…

VIP lunch!

What was supposed to be a short lunch break quickly turned into a two hour story telling session with Grant Plant and the CRC boys who were also getting food in the VIP tent. Grant is hilarious, he works for CRC now but used to be a massive DJ so he had some good stories to tell and I ended up staying there way longer than I should have!

By this time it was so hot outside I could barely walk around for ten minutes before I had to run into the shade and sit down for a bit, so I was grateful when Will texted me saying he was in the van with the aircon on. I got back in time for a quick snooze and woke up ready to race.

Harry being my brolly boy!

Racing the Dual was really fun and there was an awesome crowd. For my first two heats I had a bye, which means I got to ride on my own for two runs and automatically qualified for the next round. They were handing out 20 dollar bills at the finish line for whoever won each heat so I automatically got 40 dollars before I even raced anyone which wasn’t bad!


I ended up coming third behind Melissa Buhl and Jill Kintner, Queen of Slalom, so I was happy although I would have loved to have made the final. I messed up a bit in my semi final, unclipping in one of the berms but it would have been a close race anyway and I was just loving getting some roost in the berms on my hardtail!

After the podium before we headed we came across the Masters Cyclocross race, which was honestly one of the most entertaining races I’ve ever seen! Half of the guys were taking it deadly serious either getting off, sprinting over the obstacles and getting booed by the hysterical crowd or hopping over the hurdles on their road bikes; and the other half of the guys were racing purely for the entertainment value and the money like this guy!

When we arrived we saw one guy who was going around drinking pints of beer for 20 dollar bills from then on the crowd just got wilder, leaving money in better and more creative places for the riders to pick up. By the time we left there was money in empty cans on the floor, in shoes, sticking out of the hurdles to tempt riders running over them, in the flies of shorts and down girls’ tops, it was so much fun to watch. Never knew cyclocross could be so entertaining!

Sunday Race Day

Sunday was the day of the Sea Otter DH Classic, and another early start… All week Will had us working to a military program; up at 6, breakfasted by 6.30 and at the venue by 7. It had even begun to take its toll of him after the busy week and he had to resort to these to keep him going!

Cherry Twizzlers

Will would have a hyper 5 minutes before the sugar ran out and he’d slip back into the thoughtful team manager mode when you can tell he’s scheming something!

After having a whole week of scorching sun it was actually a relief to turn up to a misty hillside and my sunburn breathed a sigh of relief. It was nice to get to the bottom and not have to run for cover to get out of the sun! The track was very similar to the Dual Slalom with flat out jumps and dusty corners the whole way down and similarly to the Dual Slalom I ended up third behind Jill and Melissa, which was a good end to a great week. It seems to me as though the racing isn’t the main focus at Sea Otter, it’s more about the whole week of having fun, meeting people and celebrating bikes!

Girls’ DH podium

Me with two very cool little girls Grace Donovan, daughter of Leigh Donovan and McKenna Merton – watch out for her in the future!

Home time

After the race we headed back to pack up and sort out all our washing before driving to Monterey for the last night meal with the CRC guys where Al Bond ordered the biggest meat feast pizza I’ve ever seen!

Teaching Phil how to wash his clothes

Meat Feast

On Monday Will wanted to take us on a tour of San Francisco which quickly turned into a sprint to the Golden Gate and back on tandems! Of all the bike riding I’ve done recently, being on the back of a tandem with Philip Atwill – who’s trying to do bunny hops whilst I’m wearing sandals with zero tread and riding no handed to hold my dress down – was definitely the scariest experience I’ve had on two wheels for a while!

Tandem ride round San Fran

Again, sorry for this being so late but if you want to keep up to date with what we’re getting up to follow my:


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Big thanks to Madison HQ as always and to Will Longden for looking after us!!!


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