Wednesday, September 1, 2010

TransRockies in the Rear

6:53 sunrise
21:07 sunset

This week I received a hilarious bit of writing from one of my fellow TransRockies riders, Mariesa. She calls it "TransRockies in the Rear" or alternatively, and possibly more accurately, "Being rear-ended by the Rockies." I'm particularly fond of the bit about the rear-enders being like a family motor home rental. With her permission, I am posting it here.

Stage 4 start, from the back of the pack:
Transrockies in the Rear

It all began when the snow started melting. We had to face the inevitable question: what are two South-Africans going to do when they can’t throw themselves down suicidal ski-slopes every free moment? Our first Canadian winter was behind us, an endless summer lay ahead of us... we needed something to live for (or as it turned out, to nearly die for...)

So it came that I was browsing through a magazine looking for some summer inspiration and had a vision, the voice of destiny calling: “The Transrockies Challenge. Find out what’s inside...outside” “7 Days, 400km, 12 000 meter elevation gain.”

In hind-sight revealed to be perhaps not so much a vision as a rather tried and tested bit of marketing magic. That is, if the target market consists of some poor suckers prone to seeing self-induced suffering as an adventure.

That was it, we found our summer entertainment. The rest was straightforward. My husband, Ryan, and I proceeded to do everything in the standard, logical order:

1. Register (and pay in full) for a seven day endurance mountain biking challenge.
2. Test ride some bicycles at the nearest bike shop.
3. Order completely different bicycles from the ones we test rode.
4. Start cycling.

Four months later, while hiking for four straight hours up a relentlessly steep mountainside, we found ourselves truly and deeply perplexed by the following very reasonable questions: “How come we are in the rear?” “And how come the guys in the front are so much faster?”

Here follows an example of a typical rear-enders uphill contemplation (add in lots of huffing, puffing and a fair amount of swear words...)

“Don’t tell me the front guys were able to cycle THIS hill. There is NO WAY anyone can cycle this”

“No way. They probably ran it full speed, their bikes lightly whipped over their shoulders”

“That’s because those sponsored wimps have bikes that weigh less than my underpants. And those are heavy duty underpants”

“They probably inject steroids straight into their nut-sacks at night. You know. Very difficult to detect...”

To the rear-ender the front-ender is a complete mystery, the stuff legends are made of. People you see for about three seconds after the start-gun goes off in the morning, and then again on the stage at night, looking fresh and energetic, receiving awards for what any decent rear-ender would consider as humanly impossible cycling times.

By random default Ryan and I became the expert witnesses (Myth Busters) regarding the abilities of the front-enders. This is because we had the rare fortune to actually see them in action with our own eyes. Due to our brutally honest self-seeding rating, we started close to the end on the Stage 1 time trial. The elite cyclists were started a couple of hours later, assuming that most of the field will have long finished the course by then. Not so.

We weren’t even half-way when they started flying out of the bushes behind us, like apparitions from a parallel (but physically way more advanced) universe. “Rider on the Right!”, and before we had time to stop and un-cleat, we’d feel a rush of wind brush our cheeks and see the circling legs disappear over the top of the hill we’ve spent the last 5 minutes hiking. Their speed and focus was amazing, their ability to avoid and manoeuvre around obstacles. Rocks, roots, me...

I slipped on a wet root and was flopping around in the mud like an upside down dung beetle searching frantically for a patch of non-slippery surface to lift myself when I heard a firm “Stay where you are! Don’t move!” I looked up expecting a gunman in a cowboy outfit. The next moment a front-ender did an improvised bunny-hop over my sprawled body while turning a tight corner in mid-air and disappeared from sight without losing an ounce of momentum. Let alone his balance.

“Trust us”, we Myth Busters would say to our fellow doubting rear-enders: “THOSE guys CAN cycle THESE hills. No problem”.

That's when I found myself wondering: what if the front-enders are as fascinated by the rear-enders as we are by them? I could see them, freshly showered, their bicycles cleaned and serviced, their clothing rinsed and dried, (correction: the front-enders would have enough sets of fresh clothing for seven days. No need to rinse and dry. ) looking up absent-mindedly from their leg massage as the announcer welcomes another poor sod that has been out their sweating it for 9 hours...

“Honestly, HOW do they go so slow? Like, seriously, what DO they DO out there all day?"

So I’ve endeavoured to become the expert defence witness for the Rear-ender, explaining why we look the way we look and why we take so long to do what we do:

The difference between front- and rear-enders is remarkably clear even from the start line. I suspect you can predict with reasonable accuracy where in the field a cyclist is likely to finish by weighing his camelback. The true front-ender won’t have a camelback. They look like Formula 1 racing cars: sleek, aerodynamic, only the bare minimum fuel (standard one 750ml water bottle), no spare parts. They carry only what is needed to barely finish the race, taking the gamble that nothing is likely to go wrong and not planning on being out there very long.

The rear-ender looks more like a family holiday motor home rental: equipped with food and water enough for four days, clothing for all extreme weather conditions and enough spare parts to rebuild a complete second bicycle on the spot, with absolutely no technical knowledge of how to do it.

A lot of time in the rear is spent on the vital task of temperature regulation. Simpler understood as dressing and undressing. Rear-enders generally start the day on the slightly cozy side. It’s not healthy to start off at such great speeds with cold muscles. About five minutes into the first high-speed hill-climb, the sweat starts pouring and, not wanting to lose precious water and nutrients, we stop and start tearing off the layers. Now, we all know mountain weather is a moody little thing, so constant re-evaluation is of the utmost importance. Feeling a little cool? Hypothermia is a killer. Stop and layer up. Getting a bit on the sweaty side? Lose no time, layer down. This also provides great opportunity for networking and trading: “I’ll swap my waterproof gloves for your dry socks. Your arm-warmers for my energy gel...”

The average rear-ender is also a firm believer in investing time at check-points. Bystanders could easily mistake it for a culinary exhibition. Careful time is taken to sample everything on offer, starting at the energy drinks, steadily working your way down the table: watermelon, oranges, peaches, chips, cookies, sharkies and the occasional peanut butter sandwich, all the while making appreciative sounds and comments.

An observant onlooker might notice though, that this is all a great front for the true underlying purpose: the cross-questioning of check-point staff about upcoming attractions. “Any feedback received from the front? Any hills? Is the rest of the road as muddy as it was up to here? (Or did it miraculously not rain on the next 30km?)”. And most importantly: “How far to the next Check point?”

The information from these interrogations proved absolutely invaluable, a great team morale booster. We would be reassured every time that the rest of the road is much less muddy and entirely ride-able, nice rolling single track, mostly mid-ring riding. Hardly any hills.

There should be high-security prisons and lifelong hard-labour for all check-point staff.

“Mid-ring riding! Yeah, if you’re pushing your bike anyway, you can leave it in mid-ring setting.”

Some time is spent doing important calculations of performance, like how long it has taken us to clear a certain distance. A useful tool for this was singing “Hundred Bottles of Beer on the Wall” counting down one by one to zero. If we had counted down three times and still weren’t at the top of the hill, we knew we should probably be speeding up.

Then there’s of course time spent to pee, time spent refusing to walk another step in the mud, time spent hiding from the hail and thunderstorms and time spent asking ourselves how come we pay for this instead of getting paid for this, and time spent taking photos. (To be totally honest, towards the end of the seven days, less and less time was spent taking photos and more time was spent loudly quoting the sticker on a fellow rear-enders bike, which read: “Fuck the Scenery.”)

And so, the age-old mystery is solved.

The front-enders are in the front because they carry nothing and don’t stop for anything.
The rear-enders are in the rear because they carry a survival pack equivalent to their own body weight and stop for absolutely everything.

Could the rear-enders end up in the front-end if they cycled more and stopped less? Perhaps experience the joy of being back on time to shower, wash their bikes and get a massage BEFORE supper? But they have to be willing to give up the culinary check-point, the dressing-undressing ritual and the endless entertainment of foul-mouthing the fast guys and the check-point staff...

Perhaps the girl who did the Transrockies with her husband on a tandem bike summarised it for all of us, when she said (to some degree of awkward giggling) “I like it in the rear.”

5 comments:

talky said...

I have the same if not more respect for the rear enders then the front enders who were tough enough to finish having experienced rain for more then 10 minutes on three not 1 THREE consecutive days and were mentally tough enough to keep going. I am not sure I would have been able to tough out the cold and wet for that long.

Jennoit said...

Thanks Tim - and I have tons of respect for the speedsters like you. Good thing we both love bikes enough to inflict our own versions of pain on ourselves doing this.

Niki said...

love your friends writing!! especially the description between the front and rear enders - brilliant!

Jennoit said...

Isn't it great? I laughed at a lot of her descriptions.

Jim Shields said...

This is hilarious !