I need coffee.
OK, that’s better.
So let’s be up front here. The word ‘race’ is a bit misleading. I had no plans to beat anyone. I was going into this thing with two main goals, 1 – completing the event and 2 – not dying.
After seeing several black bears very near the race location, that list grew with the inclusion of 3 – not coming face-to-face with any bears, and 4 – completing the event in under 3 hours (at which point i’d probably shrivel up from dehydration and hope for a bear to come take me out of my misery).
I heard from several people that this was a nice mellow event and a good place to start with racing.
Registering was easy enough, and within minutes I had my number plate and was figuring out how to zip-tie it on. There was lots of time to wander around in the brisk air before my group would start and contemplate what I had gotten myself into. I was in the 30-39 men’s 25-km, but basically all 25-km adult age groups, men and women, would start at the same time.
My plan was simple, stay at the very back, let everyone go ahead, and just go at my own pace. The main advice I was given was to just keep moving. If you can’t climb a slope, just keep walking and don’t stop. Need to catch your breath? Do so on the flatter sections. Need water? Same thing.
Oh, and I was not on my own. My brother was there with me the whole 25 km, riding a bit ahead, nudging me on and shouting out any rock/root/drop hazards, and letting me know which descents were within my abilities, and which I might want to walk. I never told the race organizers that I was visually impaired, and my ‘Riding Blind’ jerseys were not done yet, so I was riding blind and under cover. My brother probably could have officially joined the race as my sighted guide, but then he might not have gotten an event t-shirt and raffle ticket (which would eventually net him a swanky new pair of sunglasses).
So how was it? The race began with a nice, relaxing, slow start, as basically the entire group was in front of us. Overcast skies meant the first bit was not bad for visibility. At the first climbing section we actually overtook a few people, but for the most part everyone had already gone on ahead.
I rode a couple of descents that i’d walked in the first practice lap. At one point I got a bit cocky, and I just remember looking at my front tire, then a tree, then the pile of bushes I ended up in. Thankfully I ended up a foot away from the previously mentioned tree. Nothing was broken, all my joints still worked, slightly humbled, keep going.
The first part of the race was not too bad. I walked a couple of descents that may have been ride-able, but with a lot long ways to go, I didn’t want to risk a crash.
When the second half started, the sun came out. Bright sun and shady patch transitions became more common. We were trading spaces with another group of 4 riders. They’d pass us, then a few minutes later we’d pass them. Nothing competitive, more like trail buddies. Then it started. The 50 km racers had left ahead of us and they were going to do two laps of the same course, this meant being lapped by some very competitive, and very fast riders.
You might remember I had designed my jersey to be very visible and communicate as fast as possible. Well I am glad I made those choices because there’s no time to read or explain ‘visually impaired’ on a shirt. There was basically about 3-5 seconds between hearing a racer behind you, and finding a safe patch to pull off into and let them by. I have no regrets on using the word ‘BLIND’. These people are chasing podium positions and personal bests. We don’t exist in the same world on that trail.
I was starting to get very tired, but my brother pushed me on. There were only a few more km ahead, and a large pack of 50 km racers were coming up the rear. We wanted to stay ahead of that crowd.
That last bit was pretty tough. It was a thinner, off-camber, sandy trail overlooking a significant drop. I was getting tired, my eyes were incredibly tired, and cloud cover kept changing from overcast to bright sun. Rooty, rocky sections were starting to piss me off, and my endurance on climbs was dropping fast.
I was seriously questioning my place there.
What is a blind person doing on a 25 km mountain bike race that is kicking their ass and they have no chance of winning? Why the hell was I there? Was I trying to prove anything? Was that a bear I just heard? Is there another biker coming up behind me? Fuck you roots and rocks, fuck you climbs, fuck you busted-ass-eyes, and fuck you bright sun.
But the end did come. Following my brother made it easier, hopefully staying behind with me didn’t bore him too much. Toward the end we were getting pretty good with those hazards. He’d call them out, and i’d give a ‘clear’ when through, then on to the next part. Eventually the single track ended, and it just became an uphill climb to the end.
A final climb up an energy-sucking grassy field transitioned into a final downhill section where my vision got pretty blurred but I could see my brother’s back and a large finish line arch.
And that was it.
So, was there any purpose in being there?
The only thing I can say for certain right now is that I had no idea I could bike that far with no long rests, which are common on casual group rides. If you are always the one determining your own limits and challenges, it is incredibly hard to push yourself beyond your perceived limits. Having others around you pushing, nudging and encouraging you also helps a lot, and having race organizers clearly flagging the course made navigating very easy.
Will there be another race in my future? That’s a hard question to answer. I am not a competitive person, and can’t just join a race on my own. I had lots of support, especially from my brother and his partner. They helped with getting my bike set up, getting to the race and back (significant chunks of driving) and being guided through the trails and hazards.
Was it a success?
- 1. Completing the event? Yep, did that, and even won a bike pump!
- 2. Not dying? Still alive bitches!
- 3. Not coming face to face with any bears? I may have heard one, but I never saw one, which is cool because one racer was chased by a black bear for a couple hundred metres.
- 4. Completing the event in under 3 hours? Yes, I was told that we did it in around 2 and a half hours. I never actually checked my exact time as it didn’t matter much to me.
A successful first race. I’m grateful for the experience and all those that made it possible. Big thanks go out to Jacques, Sara and the organizers of the Kootenay Krusher.