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mountain biking

The Lone RacerDecember 13, 2007

THE LONE RACER

Racing Headspace
If there's one thing I miss about the mountain biking scene from Canada, it's the cross-country races. Back then, during a racing season (April to October when there's no snow), there's always a few local races happening around Greater Toronto and the 'burbs during the weekends, and club races even on weekdays. Because I cover these events on my site, I enjoy an open invite from all race organizers to hammer down and write about it...cool! Not having to worry about race fees (usually $30) is a big thing specially if you're doing it every weekend. Some seasons would whiz by without any fun ride...just races. It's been a long while now. My last completed race was in a winter thaw in 2004, and I'm hurting for the scene.

Weekend Warrior
Before I did the races, I was the weekend warrior - being with friends for a fun ride out in the woods. Racing was only for the elite/superfit riders. Besides, I was thinking, why take the fun out of mountain biking? If you're too driven by a podium-finish, then you throw fun out of the window. Racing? No thank you.

Fred's Farm
Not long after, I got wind of the Wednesday (after-office) races at Fred's Farm from my riding buddies. I was curious, but begged off, saying that racing is not for me. And they said, "...you think we're there for the race? We just wanna ride...it's another extra day in the week for a ride. Besides, it's mostly us there anyway...same faces." Hmmm....same faces? Cool! That's not too intimidating.

A New Challenge
So there I was, every Wednesday afternoon, riding with the same people I did the fun rides with, with one obvious exception: it's not a leisurely pace anymore. In order to pace with the others, I had to pump it hard, non-stop until crossing the finish line. I would cough after the race, and continue coughing for the rest of the night. But there was something going on there. Contrary to my previous notion, this race is fun! I wasn't racing for a podium finish, and I wasn't racing to be ahead of the next guy. No, it wasn't about that. Not at all! I was simply testing my boundaries, sizing up how far I can push it...what the bike can do....and it has nothing whatsoever to do with the podium or the next guy! I was bitten by the racing bug. For the entire racing season, I was a constant face at Fred's Farm...still coughing heavily after every race.

Ouch!
This time was characterized by wipeouts, endos (going over the handle bar), crashes and frequent trips to the chiropractor - I was still learning, pushing the ride beyond my skill set, and paying the price. But I was cool about it...totally cool. I couldn't wait to heal and ride again.

Getting Better
I was perfectly happy doing the fun rides on weekends and doing Fred's Farm on Wednesdays. That was my entire mountain biking universe. All this time, I'd been hooking up with different riders, exploring different trails, reading up on the latest industry offering (I put a subscription to Mountain Bike Action and Bicycling) and always learning something new. Yeah, I was getting better, and I wasn't coughing my lungs anymore after the race at Fred's Farm...woo-hoo!

BikeNXS and Chico Races
My riding buddies told me about doing the more organized club races. During that time, 2 race organizers loomed big - BikeNXS and Chico Races. I begged off, saying I wasn't good enough to be serious about the real races. They said the same thing, "...you'll see the same faces." Huh? Hey, that's cool. So I showed up at the BikeNXS race and it was like a reunion of folks I used to have fun rides with, Fred's Farm races with...they've all become better riders and took on the next progression. I was just slow in adapting to the new headspace.

I'd been a part of the Toronto racing circuit since that time...until I left. So, back to where I am. I'm in Sagada and I miss the racing scene. What to do?

Race Venue
I'd be hard-pressed to think of a better place to have a race than Sagada. With all its technical single-tracks, breath-taking scenery, cool climate, double-tracks (for passing), drops, ruts , switch-backs, brutal climbs and hairy downhill runs, this is it.

Racing Alone
That's when it occurred to me...I race not for a podium finish, not to beat the next guy, but to push my envelope and squeeze all the riding fun I can get. Hey, I don't need a race organizer or a bunch of racers to make that happen. I can simply race alone - to ride hard, ride fast, ride without stopping until I cross my imaginary finish line.

I set out to do just that with Kiltepan. It's got all the right ingredients including the ultra-fun Disneyland section. When the road cleared up, I started hammering...down the 5-Min Trail, looping back to the junction, up the rocky portion, down the technical downhill, and bombing down the easy section, up Calvary Hill and down to the church bell. It was 57 minutes of continuous hard pumping. Whew!

Ending Thoughts
Kiltepan is normally a short fun ride. But doing it at race speed, non-stop? It was a facet of Kiltepan I haven't seen before - mild bends became sharp turns, sharp turns became switchbacks, drops became mini-launches. Also, there was no time to think. Before I can decide if I want to do a hairy section, I was already committed. I haven't ridden like this in years...and I was coughing again!!!! I never welcomed coughing the way I welcomed this one. Suddenly, I was thrown back to my early days at Fred's Farm...wow! What a rush! What heaven! I could almost see the smiling faces of all my racing buddies, giving me a tap on the shoulder, saying, "....welcome back, dude!".

--- TheLoneRider

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