Be Pre­pared to Be Un­pre­pared

Mountain Bike for Her - - Front Page - Words & Photos by Betsy Welch

A year ago, Mimi’s num­ber hadn’t even made it into the “con­tacts” list in my phone; now we are both naked, ly­ing side-by-side in a queen-sized bed with our bat­tered legs el­e­vated against the wall, won­der­ing why in the hell these ho­tel rooms don’t have ceil­ing fans. I type, lap­top rest­ing on my belly, as we try to re­call the pre­ced­ing 10 hours. Then, we dip in to our mo­bile medicine cab­i­net hope­ful that some­thing will help our ex­hausted minds shut down so that our ex­hausted bod­ies can get some rest.

Welcome to the world of stage rac­ing. Or rather, welcome to the Tran­sPyr, dur­ing the hottest week on record in the Span­ish Pyre­nees.

As you are wont to do when com­mit­ting to some­thing months be­fore it oc­curs, af­ter Mimi and I clicked “pur­chase” on our Tran­sPyr race en­tries one swirly snow­storm morn­ing in Jan­uary, we went skiing and promptly for­got about it. When the spring started push­ing daf­fodil and cro­cus shoots through the Colorado dirt, we thought we should at least think about get­ting on our bikes.

With the help of a coach and our com­mit­ment to not let train­ing take the place of en­joy­ing rid­ing our bikes, we loosely sched­uled 12 weeks worth of close-to-home short rides and week­end trips to the desert and high coun­try. An un­char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally wet spring damp­ened a few of our planned ad­ven­tures—we had to hitch­hike home from 12,000 feet in Rocky Moun­tain Na­tional Park af­ter it started spit­ting snow and we couldn’t stop shiv­er­ing—but our legs protested less with each longer ride.

Then there were all the lo­gis­ti­cal pieces of the puz­zle, which we tack­led with typ­i­cal Colorado lais­sez faire. We bought plane tick­ets in May (for the June de­par­ture), I was in al­most- daily com­mu­ni­ca­tion with the race or­ga­niz­ers in Spain, ask­ing ques­tions they’d just an­swered in their news­let­ters, and we still didn’t know quite what type of ter­rain we’d be rid­ing (other than the fact that there were 800 kilo­me­ters of it, with 18,000 me­ters of ac­cu­mu­lated climb­ing).

But it’s a good thing we didn’t let prepa­ra­tion and anx­i­ety hi­jack our lives be­fore the race

be­cause noth­ing can re­ally pre­pare you for what hap­pens af­ter the open­ing gun­shot sounds. Noth­ing can pre­pare you for show­ing up at the start line with GPS de­vices that don’t work.

This is a big deal when the race­course isn’t marked. When the daily dis­tance ranges from 95-135 kilo­me­ters, and the route fol­lows no pre­dictable course (pave­ment turns to sin­gle­track turns to fol­low­ing-the-cow­path in a mat­ter of min­utes), you need to be able to rely on some­thing other than your gut. Mimi had a nice new touch-screen Garmin that she’d been us­ing dur­ing our train­ing rides to mon­i­tor her heart rate and record our routes. I had an older model not re­ally meant for bik­ing, but my boyfriend and I up­loaded the GPX files the day be­fore I left for Spain and drove to a Ca­bela’s in a strip-malled sub­urb of Den­ver to find a han­dle­bar mount for it.

Giddy at the start line, we both pow­ered on our de­vices. Mimi: “Oh, shit.” Me: “Oh, no.”

Hers was noth­ing but a line on the screen, no dis­cern­able de­tail be­hind it to tell us if we were in Catalunya or Kathmandu. Mine? Noth­ing. No files. Not even the boyfriend’s record­ings of past moto trips. This. . .could be a prob­lem. But the gun sounded, we were at the front of the pack (ladies first, the Span­ish way), so the only thing we could do was pedal. And pray that there was al­ways some­one in front of us or be­hind.

Noth­ing can pre­pare you for the weather.

Feel­ing con­fi­dent that we had our gear di­alled af­ter YouTub­ing the race and notic­ing that ev­ery­one was wear­ing jack­ets and vests, we stuck arm warm­ers and ex­tra gloves into our packs the first day.

Mimi is fair-skinned and hides in her base­ment with a bowl of ice cream dur­ing our hottest sum­mer months. I love the sun and heat and have the wrin­kles to prove it, but I had never seen sweat bead up and roll off my skin

at such an alarm­ing rate. Gone was the thought that we would lighten the weight of our packs by car­ry­ing only a liter of wa­ter. And gra­cias a dios for the Spa­niards who al­ways seemed to know where there was a foun­tain with potable wa­ter in vil­lages that ap­peared oth­er­wise aban­doned. On the hottest day of all, even the South African thought they should have can­celled the race. Noth­ing can pre­pare you for how your body will protest, then adapt, to the phys­i­cal chal­lenges you present it with. Nor can you pre­pare for the power your mind has when the body breaks down.

In the early hours of the sev­enth and fi­nal day of the race, I awoke to Mimi groan­ing in the bath­room. Oh no, I thought. This is it. She tried, bless her heart, to drink wa­ter and muster the will to eat the crum­bled pieces of bread I brought up to the room from break­fast, but her body re­fused it all. Min­utes be­fore the start­ing gun­shot (and min­utes af­ter she’d ducked into the trees to puke), we ar­rived breath­less at the medic tent.

“Get me some­thing,” Mimi said. “Any­thing.” The medics weren’t sur­prised with her symp­toms; ap­par­ently we weren’t the first visi­tors that morn­ing. She swal­lowed two small white pills, and we crawled over the start line, in step with the other strug­gling riders.

Mimi was sick, but I was wor­ried sick. I didn’t think there was any way she’d have the strength to pedal the last 95 kilo­me­ters (and 2500 me­ters) to the sea. The climbs were—as they’d been each day—pun­ish­ing, the air crack­led with heat, and our pace was tor­toise-like. Although she hated it, Mimi let me take her bike and walk it up some of the steeper climbs. She ate a banana when I told her that the or­ange that she wanted would up­set her stom­ach. She let our Span­ish friend Fran ride be­side her, push­ing her up the worst of the climbs. And she de­cided, some­where around kilo­me­ter 40, that she wanted to fin­ish. De­spite my as­sur­ances that I didn’t care if we got those damn jer­seys, that we needed to be safe and take care of her, I knew that I had to let her ride. Noth­ing can pre­pare you for the bonds you will forge...

...with your race part­ner, who hangs back with

you as you whinge and drag through Day 3 (the pre­ced­ing five rest­less, jet-lagged nights fi­nally catch­ing up) and who in­spects your bum to make sure the sad­dle sores aren’t be­com­ing sep­tic.

With your friends and fam­ily, who loan you out to afore­men­tioned race part­ner and un­der­stand that the work­out plan trumps date nights and week­ends away, then send vir­tual high fives and hell yahs across the At­lantic Ocean.

You start to rec­og­nize the peo­ple you meet on the trail by bike and by hel­met colour and by their play­ful quips—like the only other racer who wore bag­gies and no­ticed the minute we traded ours for Ly­cra only (a tem­po­rary mea­sure en­acted to try and re­duce chaf­ing); and the portly South African who al­ways wanted to talk pol­i­tics and yelled “Obama” when we passed. The Ger­man girls from Bavaria—the only other non- pro fe­males—who we leap-frogged day af­ter day, learn­ing about their kids, their boyfriends, their jobs, and how fast they drove on the au­to­bahn. And our guardian an­gels Fran and Manel, the Spa­niards who stayed back on the last day to make sure that Mimi was ok and that we all crossed the fin­ish line to­gether.

In­ti­macy with oth­ers ar­rives quickly when life seems only to con­sist of eat­ing, sleep­ing, and ped­al­ing for seven days straight, and it also forces you into new depths of re­la­tion­ship with your­self.

If you sign up for a stage race, by all means, get pre­pared. Ride your bike and lift weights. Buy your­self an ex­pen­sive pair of chamois. Make a de­tailed pack­ing list, book the ho­tels months in ad­vance, and ar­rive at the start line feel­ing ca­pa­ble and col­lected. But know that most of what will hap­pen will be an ad­ven­ture—equal parts peril and for­tune—and that you shouldn’t try to have it any other way.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.