Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Challenge

One of my goals for the upcoming year is to complete the Transrockies. It's a one week mountain bike race through the Canadian Rockies, from Fernie to Panorama, crossing the continental divide twice. Over seven days, I will ride more than 600 kilometres, including over 12,000 metres of vertical. It's one of the toughest mountain bike races on earth and it will be my first mountain bike race. I sure know how to pick them.

The event is something I've known about for a few years and look at from a distance with admiration for those who dare to take it on. From time to time, I had wondered whether it was something I should try...and then I would remember that I don't mountain bike. Perhaps it would be best to develop some mountain biking skills before considering this thing further.

Erik got me a mountain bike for Christmas two years ago and I have barely used it. I have always found excuses not to mountain bike. My favorite one has been: "if its nice enough to mountain bike, its nice enough to road bike". Others have included: "I don't like danger", "I don't know any trails", and "I'm not good at it". This year, some of these excuses have started to fall away. I love road biking, but I've discovered there comes a time when one has ridden to Big Hill Springs, Cochrane, Bragg Creek, Millarville a few too many times. So long to my favorite excuse. I tagged along with Erik a couple of times as he headed to Bragg Creek for some mountain biking. He showed me a few trails and left me to ride them at my own pace. To my surprise, I discovered that it was actually fun a lot of fun, didn't feel particularly dangerous when I was able to determine the pace, and I could see myself improving. Don't get me wrong, I'm no super star on a mountain bike - its more accurately a function of starting from a very, very low skill level, with only one direction in which to move. With my excuses rapidly disappearing, my enjoyment of the sport improving, and a bit more experience in the saddle, I looked to the event with increasing curiosity.

And then Erik competed in the event this year. Erik is no slouch on a mountain bike and is considerably tougher and more tolerant of hardship than me. His description of his experience in the race made clear just how tough it is. His description also made it clear that it was a fantastic way to experience the Rockies and a great opportunity for personal growth. I've chosen to listen more carefully to the latter messages and, when registration opened up for the 2007 event and was rapidly filling up, took the plunge and signed up to do the race. I'm now one step closer to doing the race.

Two critical steps remain before I'm going to be in a position to complete the Transrockies. One is getting my mountain bike skills and fitness to a level where this is within my reach. This is going to take a lot of focus and effort over the next nine months. I really have my work cut out for me. But, as if that wasn't daunting enough, there's an even more pressing challenge I face. It's finding a partner. Yes, this is a team event. And, well, um, I don't have a team mate yet. In fact, I haven't really ridden with anyone besides Erik really - and he's not exactly an option for me as a partner (by both his choice and mine).

I realize it might seem a little silly to commit to doing a team race like this without knowing my partner - afterall, the teammate is arguably the most important element. This is a pretty big commitment for anyone on their own. Add in the complexity of spending 24 hours a day with the same person for a whole week while you test your physical and emotional limits, and its kind of surprising that this event fills up every year. I think most people sign up with partners that they ride with regularly, or have a good sense for the skill level, fitness and personality fo the partner. Having not ridden much, there isn't a natural existing riding partner for me. I don't even know that many people that mountain bike or how my level of riding compares to theirs. So, here I am, making the situation even more complicated by putting myself in a position to find a partner that I've never ridden with, haven't spent any time with, and don't know particularly well. But I have faith. I've always been rewarded when I've taken a chance. Maybe it has just been luck. Or maybe it has been selective memory. Or maybe it has been the absence of expectations. But I feel good about the possibility that I will find a good partner for the race. It kind of excites me.

Skills and fitness will be key to finishing the race, but I think the most important thing I will need to find in a partner is someone with a similar philosophy on biking as me. My objective next year will be to finish with a smile on my face and a feeling of pride about the effort that my partner and I put in over the course of the week. I do not have the same fire in my belly as Erik does, which (besides the huge gap in skill and fitness) is why we would never be a good match for this. I would like to find someone that is better than me, but not so much better than me that it is not enjoyable for them. I'm secretly competitive and I know I will push myself harder if I have a partner that is riding at a higher level than me. A more skilled partner also has the benefit of experience, which will be important for pacing, preparation and organization. I would like a partner that is going to take this seriously (ie. willing to put in the effort training and unlikely to quit), but not so seriously that they forget to have fun. I have two people in mind and have no idea whether they would like to do the event, let alone with me. But I signed up for a spot in the race anyway. Let the adventure begin.


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