View From the Back of the Pack: Part 2 – Changing Perspectives

I last left off on a depressing note.  I highly suggest you read my last post before reading this one for it to make sense.  Fast forward a couple of weeks after Kamloops with some fairly unpleasant riding experiences in between.  There’s a point I would really love to add in here because I feel like it’s a factor that has been an issue in the past and really contributes to how I’m feeling on a ride.  That is the issue of the sweep.

For those of you who don’t know, the sweep is the person who brings up the rear.  In a race or event it’s the person who leaves after everyone else and makes sure that everyone gets down safely.  In my experience as a slow person, the sweep really can make or break that ride.  I have experienced wonderful, lovely sweeps who are just out to support everyone and make sure we all get down and/or have fun.  I have also experienced sweeps who feel the need to make snide comments about the slowest rider (me), about how much of a hurry they’re in (when there’s plenty of time left on the official clock), and in some cases straight up bullying.  I’m already feeling self conscious about being slower than everyone else.  I’m not just being lazy and taking too many breaks.  I’m doing the best I can and, especially when it’s a more casual and fun race, it seems unnecessary to give me shit for not being as fast as you want to go.  Again, that being said it is not everyone I have encountered and it won’t be everyone I encounter going forward.  I just wanted to mention this in case someone reading this is a sweep one day and is waiting for someone struggling.  Trust me, they’re not doing it just to annoy you and you very well make someone want to completely quit the sport.

This brings us to the morning of the Canadian National Enduro Series Fraser Valley race on Vedder Mountain.  I was, in a word, miserable.  I didn’t want to do the race.  I didn’t want sweeps to spend the day giving me shit for being slow.  I didn’t want to feel like a failure.  But I was there and registered.  I didn’t want to sit in the car for 7 hours waiting for Ryan to finish.  So I frowned and whined about not wanting to do it and I took off on my bike alone (staggered starts for different categories of riders).  Then something magical happened.  I don’t know if it was how beautiful the forest was or how peaceful it was climbing by myself but I got smacked in the face with an undeniable truth: I was there to have fun.  I can stop whenever I want.  My goals are my own and the only person I can let down is myself.

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A smile?! On a climb?!

It seems simple but after feeling so much pressure and disappointment it truly felt like a sudden realization.  The sun coming out between parting clouds.  Suddenly I was smiling on my sweaty walk up.  I cheered people and made jokes as people passed me.  I set a new goal:  get to the top.  This doesn’t seem like much of a goal but, honestly, if you’ve ever done the climb all the way up Vedder you’ll understand.  It’s brutal and steep.  It took me 3 hours.  I was doing stages 1 and 2 with the pro men and women who left 2 hours after me.  But we all suffered through it together and I actually enjoyed my death march up the hill.

In the end, I only completed 2 stages out of 6 or 7 but I felt so pleased.  I made it to the top!  Something I honestly felt almost impossible until I was standing at the stage 1 start.  I was beaming.  I am not a failure.   That’s why I’m still writing.  For the person who’s scared they’re not good enough to tackle that race, group ride, or even mountain biking in general!  You set your own goals.  If someone else decides to give you a hard time for it, that’s on them.  Maybe they’ve missed the whole reason why we’re all out there in the first place: to have fun.  Even the most serious racers find joy in being out on their bike. Keep that in mind and you’ll never have a bad day on the trails.

Another thing happened during the after party for this race which I am both proud and ashamed of.  An announcement came on saying that anyone who has an “ugly or shitty bike” come over to the Race Face tent for a contest to pimp out your bike with some amazing new parts.  As soon as I heard that I proclaimed, “I got this!” and ran poor Jenny over to the tent.  There were a couple of other people with their bikes mingling around, waiting for judgement and when they saw my bike coming they, no word of a lie, hung their heads in disappointment and WALKED AWAY!  This feeling was cemented as the judge took one look at my bike and said, “what the hell is that?!”  He was particularly interested in my ancient dropper post.  Long story short, it was no contest and Jenny won some amazing carbon cranks, bottom bracket, new chain ring, carbon handlebars, and a new stem.  It was incredible and even I know that those pieces are too baller for my old bike.  I still put them on.  Unfortunately the stem and handlebars didn’t fit my poor, old Jenny, but the cranks went on and she lost a full TWO POUNDS.  I was shocked!  They’re so smooth and I love them. Maybe I’ll get a new fork and put on the stem and handlebars one day.  This particular situation also ended up with my picture in an article and had people recognizing me at the next race.  Pretty crazy, huh?

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The kindness of strangers…. someone gave me a much needed fruit cup!

I felt completely renewed by this experience and I was so excited to tackle the next weekend’s race in Kelowna.  That story is up next!