Interesting thread on the MTBR Endurance forum asking why people push themselves in long races be it a 24hr race in a team or a solo attempt on the GDR. I was going to post until I saw that, what I assumed my answer would be, had been posted a dozen times already: Personal challenge, being outdoors, self sufficiency, ranking amongst other riders, etc.... The more I thought about it the more I realised that while those things did matter they were often secondary to the real reason.
I want to suffer. I want to confront my demons and I want to meet them on my terms. I want to beat them down and back into the dark corners of my mind. Simple.
I have yet to find anything as cathartic as a 3hr+ climb a vertical mile up a mountain pass in 80deg heat on a singlespeed. Perhaps primal scream therapy whilst having your legs beaten with a big stick might come close. I find the simple, repetitive almost trance inducing act of sitting and pedaling up a hill totally relaxing in a mental way. Sure your legs burn and your lungs heave but you shut that out after a while and you retreat into you mind, seeking out the dark corners away from the scorching sunlight and dust outside. You open doors, stumble across memories and feelings long buried. You laugh and cry, sing snippets of old songs and let the mental pain you uncover leave your body with the ragged breath from your lungs.
At the top you are not quite sure how you made it or what other riders might think of you. But you are calm, centred and happy; you suffered and survived. You went looking for pain and found the right dose, one that stimulates your mind and body enough to make it tougher but also aware of how frail it is. I hope that through seeking out hurt and self-doubt I can make my self not only a better person but also tougher for when an unfortunate event befalls me. I won't be shocked beyond action like a person thrown into icy water for the first time, but accept the pain and get on with it like those nutters who swim in ice covered lakes for fun...or perhaps they like the pain?
So whats next? I have had word of an 8day race in the Spiti valley run by the great guys at HASTPA who run the MTB Himachal. 480km and 16,000m of climbing, so shorter and steeper than the Himachal! The race starts on the 21st July and takes in a couple of 14,000'+ passes in the weird barren moon-scape of the Spiti valley. The start and end is in Manali (where I will find a real Yak this time!) which is a great place to acclimatise / recover. The real draw is the fact that the Spiti area is sheltered from the monsoon rains and is one of the driest places on earth...which after riding in the UK over the last 2-3years sounds great! Perhaps I can export some of our weather or set up a meteorological exchange program :) Details will be up here soon
I have been making plans for the 2009 MTB Himachal but I think that this new, bigger challenge might be the one. The only bad news is that the short time scale and the cost of the event and airfare. Don't get me wrong the event is cheap for the level of support and organisation you get (support jeeps, all catering, full medical team, emergency helicopter on standby and a pressure chamber if you get altitude sickness!) but on the wages of a bike shop employee it is big £££ to find at relatively short notice. If anyone would like to contribute in a small way to my taking part there is a Paypal Donate button on the top of the sidebar. I feel cheeky but failing a big company wanting to sponsor a lone singlespeeder in a race that only a small community of endurance racers will ever hear about I need to self-fund it. I am willing to send everyone who sponsors me a CD-ROM of the photos and copy of my write up when I get back.
Right enough of the begging and navel-gazing.
Photo taken by Cass Gilbert, shamelessly stolen by me.