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Racing, riding and adventure by bike

High as a kite

The morning dawned across a freezing landscape. A small group huddled around a train station waiting for the clock to complete it’s slow arc and arrive at 9am. An arbitrary point in time that signified simultaneously everything and nothing. Both a random point in the arc of a needle along with a long anticipated start to the GDT2014.  The beginning of the agony and ecstasy that is ultra racing with all the courage, adventure and trepidation that encompasses the exploration of ones limits in unfamiliar terrain.

One thousand kilometres away I was taking in my third or fourth coffee for the morning overlooking a lake on a glorious winters morning. The fat bikes safely cocooned in the ute while we enjoyed the aroma of fresh espresso and the telltale crackles and pops of bacon in the pan. A spontaneous decision to make one last use of the luxuries of civilisation before disappearing into our own world of trails and exploration. The start line equally arbitrary for us and the route ahead equally uncertain but the sense of adventure held in common.

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The mud dragged at the racers tyres and slowly ground away at mechanical components. Mud, the most relentless of all opponents. In possession of an insatiable appetite, it eventually began to feed upon their spirit. The will to continue, the need to get this thing done. Leaving everything it touched blackened, cold and lifeless.  The never ending mire that had engulfed the trails of wombat continued unabated. The clock was ticking, the pace needed to stay high if personal goals were to be met. The perpetual internal struggle of the ultra racer – you’re their to enjoy yourself yet this just isn’t fun anymore.

On thousand kilometres away, days of rain had overpowered the thirst of the parched earth. The sky, the usually silky-blue pacifist of the last few months had turned dark and menacing and it’s fury directed at the ground in an orgy of water boarding. The tortured ground slowly drowning under the weight of the assault. The trails becoming rivers, grassy patches becoming lakes yet the sand just becoming harder. That rare combination of low tide following days of rain producing the kind of rock hard conditions for fat biking that render big tyres redundant. The steady click of the freewheel announcing that you aren’t pedalling which is indescribably rare when riding sand.

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The sky’s temper tantrum and the earths uncomfortable squelching fell on deaf ears as we pedalled southwards. With no fixed destination, no prescribed route and only a vague sense of timing there was no need to push the pace. There was no need to forgo sleep, no need to endure alone and certainly no need to note the progress of the sun across the sky. Smiles, laughter and sunlight mingling to completely obscure the mud.

The sun set on the racers as the temperatures again plummeted. The riders forging weapons of their will and pedalling deep into the night. Weapons used to battle the monsters that come for you in the wee hours when you are at your most vulnerable. Sleep monsters, giant inflatable creatures of horror, small sinister robotic rabbits and telekinetic rocks that can move of their own accord. The night is dark and full of terrors.

As the sun set, we raised our beers and toasted success. The pub heater warming our backs as the rain returned and beat down heavily on the iron roof. Warm and dry – things to be thankful for. The luminous glow of phones allowing us to track the progress of the racers. The beer allowing others to fight for the honour of ladies and us to laugh about it. The beer allowing us the courage to head back into the wind and rain and locate a bivvy spot, set up a tarp and then finally remove our sodden shoes that now more closely resembled a crumbed schnitzel than regular footwear. Our sleeping bags were warm, dry and the stars came out to illuminate a magical headland. The night is bright and full of wonder.

The racers kept pushing. Crashing and falling off again as sleep addled reflexes struggled to deal with the crushing lows that come in the predawn. Keep pushing. Must get to the train station. Must get this over with. Must make this end.

We awoke with laughter when we realised we had camped in the middle of the main footpath that puzzled fisherman were using to access their favourite spots. We packed away damp gear, saddled our bikes and headed off to fly a kite upon an island. To what purpose? Simply because it was there, which seems as good a reason as any. The raucous colours of the joyous fabric carving graceful arcs through the morning sky. Simple pleasures in a complex world.

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The racers gritted their teeth and limped into the finish. Blessed relief and euphoria. An enormous challenge overcome and the sweet success of accomplishment. Self reliance, determination and strength combining to propel them across the line.

We gritted our teeth. We’d been awake for the better part of 2 hours and hadn’t yet had a coffee. Sitting in the sun outside the cafe in the most glorious sunshine, the espresso finally arrived. Those neurological pathways involved in the reward and pleasure re-inforced as caffeine found it’s way to receptors and the world seemed an even better place.

I’ve been on both sides of this tale numerous times. I’ve endured pain and suffering and uttered the words ‘never again’ more times than i can count. I’ve marvelled at what occurs inside my brain to make me forget the bad parts and focus on the good and bring me back for another race. I’ve also ridden my bike to a pub located on quality trails with good company and no agenda. The only comparison I offer is that one leaves you saying “never again” until you can forget the pain. The other leaves you saying “I can’t wait for next time” and you don’t want to forget. I think I can see what the future of bike touring has in store for me.

 

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