Canadian Cycling Magazine

Notes from the Gruppetto

Rashomon effect in the desert

- By Bart Egnal

The legendary 1950 film Rashomon tells the story of the death of a samurai through the stories of various individual­s. Each person has a differing account of the same incident, and the truth emerges from the contradict­ions.

It’s 2020 and I am proud to say that my fellow columnist Cranky and I are each telling our version of the same mountain bike ride that took place in the Arizona desert. It falls to you, dear reader, to determine which of our stories is true, or if they both are, or if we are both full of it.

But first, some context and a bit of a confession. Cranky and I are going public with a relationsh­ip that we have kept under wraps. We have known each other for years. Mrs. Cranky and I have worked together for nearly two decades. About 10 years ago, she started telling me about her new boyfriend, a genial British chap who rode ungodly long distances on a bike. “He will go out on his bike,” she explained, “and ride for three, four or even five hours.” “What horror is this?” I asked, caring deeply for her and not wanting her to make poor life choices. “You should consider very carefully if he is marriage material!” When he crashed his bike into a squirrel weeks before their wedding and had to walk down the aisle with crutches, I held back on saying, “I told you so.”

When I moved to Vancouver and caught the cycling bug, I asked Cranky – who was well-entrenched at Canadian Cyclingmag­azine – to see about getting my tale, of the asinine experience of crit racing I had just discovered, into this magazine. He connected me with the editor, and Notes from the Gruppetto was born.

Inspired by Cranky’s can-do attitude, I promptly offered him a job in my company where he has been ever since. Caught between a desire to go riding with him and the imperative that we actually get some work done, we spend far more time talking about bikes and riding than actually pedalling. His annual promises to buy a new bike or race in the Masters 2 category with me again are like the breadcrumb trail he leaves, at the end of which is only sadness and, fortunatel­y, wine and cheese.

So when we went to Arizona in January for a company retreat, I insisted we go mountain biking. We were staying in Phoenix near an incredible city park called South Mountain, which makes Ontario mountain biking seem like a tragic playpen. Kitted out and with a guide, we set out on a ride. Despite Cranky’s protestati­ons to the contrary, he still retained the ability to suffer. We spent a pleasant first hour cruising the desert trails, going up and down some nice singletrac­k and feeling pretty good about our roadie-turned-mtb skills. Both of us were doing our best Nino Schurter/ Kate Courtney impression­s as we crushed climbs, dropped like stones and showed those Arizona trails who was boss.

After a brief sighting of wild pigs, we took some “action shots:” we dropped huge cliffs (or more likely went down small hills) while our guide took photos. The joy was interrupte­d only by the shout of “coming through” by someone wearing an “AZ state 2013 champion” jersey who was obviously a poser doing an above-threshold interval just to impress us. We weren’t impressed.

Two hours in, we decided to push our luck and fitness and do some climbs. I was attacking (meaning the guide let me go first) up a climb when my compatriot executed a planned-yet-sudden mid-climb dismount. Said dismount could under no circumstan­ces be considered a crash, but we decided to pause as we, highly tuned ex-m2 racers, refuelled and contemplat­ed the beauty of Arizona. We also made a pact to tell Mrs. Cranky nothing of this diversion.

With our ambitions sated and the desert conquered, we meandered back to the hotel to re-carb on tacos. We had conquered the desert, together. We were a long way from our days of crushing M2 packs and doing five-hour rides with guys who will drop you sooner than you can say, “Help.” But neither of us minded too much. The bonds of cyclists age well. You realize after a while that it’s pleasant to simply ride without trying to crush your buddies. That is, as long as you finish first up that climb.

It may be another year before Cranky and I get out there again. I know he’ll go back to training on his ridiculous hairshirt fixie while I grind away on Zwift under the watchful eye of my coach. After all, when you only get one ride a year together, you’d better make sure you’re ready to crush it.

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