04 May 2012

PMBAR, to the letter

I like racing my bike. When I get old(er) and can no longer turn the pedals in anger, I'll look back on the past decade with satisfaction: I have lived my dream. I was seven years old when the dream took hold, and thanks to Kim, it became a reality.

But please, for the love of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, I wish people would stop asking me, "Are you gonna' win?"

I hate that question. I'm shocked how often it gets asked -- days, weeks, sometimes months before an event. Funnily enough, it's never non-bike-folk who ask me -- instead, it's other riders, usually racers, who know how hard it is for everything to come together all at once on race day to pull off a V. I'll admit, it gets in my head, and I actually get angry -- Hell, no, I'm not going to win. I'm not Mickey-friggin'-Mantle, pointing his bat to the left field fence and then smacking the ball out of the park. I'm not Bode Miller, intent on out-partying the competition and then slicing to the win with a raging hangover. And I'm sure as heck not Eddy Merckx, who could basically predict that he would ride away from the competition and raise his arms in victory as he crossed the line.

To be sure, I've had some solid wins these past few years. They're fun -- winning is pretty awesome. But I've also had more than a few heartaches, events that I targeted only to have them go pear-shaped just minutes past the start line. Or races where I've been feeling at the top of my game, only to come up against someone whose game was just that much higher. And it's a quirk of my personality that sometimes when those things happen, I go to a very, very dark place: For every winner's medal I have in a box at home, I can tell you 10 stories of days when I've decided to quit racing forever.

It occurred to me yesterday that you can tell a person's personality as it relates to racing by how they approach PMBAR. The Pisgah Mountain Bike Adventure Race is a one-day romp through the most awesome trail system on the planet, a choose-your-own-adventure adventure that will have participants exploring singletrack trails, rock gardens and gravel roads for anywhere from 6 to 14 hours. What's more, it's a team event -- each team is two people, who are required to be within shouting distance of each other the entire time. From the moment the checkpoints are revealed at Smoker's Cove tomorrow at 8 a.m., participants will spend the rest of the day together ... through highs and lows, thick and thin, up one hillside and down the other.

How a team tackles PMBAR can be determined by which letter they emphasize most. For some, it's all about the "R" -- there's no question that Wes Dickson and Geoff Bergmark are in it for the win (provided they bring their reading comprehension skills -- Wes has said as much). Same with anyone paired with Sam Koerber. And that's great for them -- they're prepared, and they'll kill it out there. They want to race.

For others, it's all about the "P" -- we have racers coming from far and wide just to get a fun day in the Pisgah National Forest with their buddy and a bunch of other nutters. It's a great excuse to get out and explore, and maybe ride some stuff they wouldn't otherwise travel to see.

The "M" folks are in it for the bragging rights that come with accomplishing several thousand feet of elevation in a day (cough, Clay, cough); the "B" folks need an excuse to get out and ride, as opposed to doing yardwork or any other number of things that real life throws at us each weekend.

For my partner, Greg, and I, PMBAR is at its best for the "A." We've been riding these events together for 2 years now (there's a 2-day version each October called Double Dare), and from the start we made a pact that we would approach each race as just a big day in the forest, come what may. As our friendship has developed over the past few years, even our emphasis on the "B" and the "P" has faded -- Greg is an experienced hiker, and it's a blast to get out in the woods with him by foot, even if the trails aren't in our beloved Pisgah National Forest.

We've had some success with this -- our surprise finishes last year were pretty incredible -- but more importantly we've had a lot of fun. There are some tough moments out there (the Sunday of Double Dare can go either really well or really, really badly), but we've also had some pretty cool experiences, and we've done it all without killing each other. Greg's Zen-like approach to riding is a perfect foil for my near-sociopathic, structured approach, and I have learned a lot from him in terms of how to prepare mentally for each event. He's a monster on the bike, for sure, but he's not out there to crush people; the experience ultimately counts for more than the result. And if the result is good? That's just so much sweeter.

So please, if you see me this afternoon, or tomorrow morning, ask me what I'm hoping to experience out there. Ask me about our approach to mapping the checkpoints, and how we figure out our Adventure. Ask me how it feels to roll down Thrift Cove at the end of a very, very long day in the woods, knowing that together, Greg and I have thrown all we can at the trails, and have prevailed. Ask me how good it feels to jump in Davidson River and feel the icy waters envelope my legs, washing away any bad memories as it rinses the mud from my skin.

Ask me any of those things. Just don't ask me if we're going to win.

1 comment:

clay said...

PMBAR is way too much FUN to worry about something as silly as winning.

And for the record I'm in it for the Adventure ;)