I really liked hearing about the Winter Park race last week, because it seemed like everyone legitimately hated the tracks there. All of the coverage was saturated with complaints about the cross country courses that passed off as EWS race stages, and even this week talking to racers I haven’t heard one positive thing about Winter Park. Everyone hated it, and for me, that’s great to hear. I hate riding my bike about 90% of the time, due to a mix of hating the trails I’m riding, hating my bike for whatever reason, and most often due to hating myself, so hearing people get down on the Winter Park tracks was right in my wheelhouse. It’s the way the world is supposed to work. Everyone being pissed off and complaining feels a lot like downhill racing, which is the spiritual center of my bike world.
This weekend we’re up here in Whistler, and apparently everyone got together and had a meeting that I wasn’t invited to, where everyone agreed that no one was allowed to complain about the amount of climbing in the course, and everyone was required to use the words “steep,” “technical,” and “gnarly” to describe the stages. Fair enough, each of the stages had some steep, gnarly, and technical bits in them. But what no one in the entire world was allowed to mention was the fact that each of the courses had mega flat zero MPH rooty 90-degree-corner-laden old school techincal XC tracks in the middle of them… really long mega flat zero MPH rooty 90-degree-corner-laden old school techincal XC tracks.
Of the fifty some-odd minutes of racing, a solid 10 minutes of it was spent doing a mix of:
- Pedaling flat or uphill gravel
- Going half a mile per hour muscling the bike over flat or uphill roots and rocks laden with 90 degree corners
- Climbing uphill out of a creek crossing
- Pedaling through a completely straight, completely flat pile of rocks.
Then, after months of pain, anguish, and confusion, you finally see a legitimately hot chick and everything snaps back into place. No brain, those fives weren’t nines. They were fives.
Saturday morning I watched the Windham World Cup live stream, and everything snapped back into place. The world was as it should be again. The mental fog passed, and it was all clear to me. Trails don’t have to suck. They don’t have to be slow and awkward. Trail builders don’t have to kill speed constantly. Bikes were meant to roll, not crawl.
I’ve created this graph to help illustrate why the Whistler Enduro course was less than I’d hoped:
I just don’t understand what this race was about. All weekend long when people asked me what I thought of the race, I told them I didn’t understand. I didn’t understand why the course builders wanted it to be such a long day. I didn’t understand why each stage needed to be so pedally and flat and slow, even after us racers finished climbing so many hills. I didn’t understand what they were trying to accomplish with the course routing and all the climbing. And nothing was as hard or as gnarly as you diehard Whistler locals and various MTB media types made it sound.
The courses were super abusive, so I needed a big heavy bike with big heavy tires. But I also needed to climb 8000 feet on that same bike, and basically race a cross country race down the five race stages as well. I needed to wear a full face helmet according to the rules, but I also needed to wear a helmet in the 90 degree heat according to BC law. I needed to eat about 3000 calories and drink 12 bottles of water over the eight hours of “racing” and crawling up gravel roads, but according to the rules I needed to carry all of my own food, water, and tools on my person. If I stashed food, stopped by my car, or visited a store I would be disqualified.
Those conflicting interests put me on a 35 pound bike with front and rear downhill tires, carrying two helmets and a hot, sweaty bag on my back that weighed about 10 or so pounds. For eight hours. Oh, and by the way I’m supposed to race what amounts to a really technical XC course like that. But I’m supposed to think that it was awesome and super fun, because I don’t want anyone to think I’m a pussy.
One of the oddest moments was during the Friday riders meeting, when one of the Crankworx event promoters recoiled at the thought of someone hiking up to the top of a stage. In his words the transfer times were chosen “so that we didn’t see top guys hiking to the top again,” as if our life-risking and lung bursting efforts on the way down the hill weren’t enough to soothe this guy’s insecurities about the enduro discipline, we had to prove how hard we were on the way up, too, on chunky 20% pitch gravel roads. Because if someone takes a moment to collect themselves before racing blind for 15 minutes down death chutes and blown out corners, that’s not ‘real enough.’
If we’d taken a lift to the top of every stage, yesterday still would have been one of the hardest races I’ve ever done.
Why did we have to suffer so much yesterday? Plain and simple, we were there to appease the enduro gods. Everyone secretly knows that enduro kind of sucks, that it’s the shorter, more boring, less attractive younger sister of downhill racing, but no one is allowed to say that, because that might hurt her feelings. The more people try to talk around the obvious and defend enduro racing and the EWS, the more they confirm our suspicions. We call this behavior “Short Man Syndrome,” or “Ugly-Sister-Turned-Feminist Complex.” I like to call it “All of My Fellow Students at Lewis and Clark College Disorder.” I’m not even saying enduro racing is bad, or lame, or easy. That would ridiculous and unsubstantiated. I’m just saying that it’s obviously not as cool as downhill.
Our suffering yesterday was some form of penance to the enduro gods to prove that enduro racing is different, and thus better, than downhill racing. Sure it’s not as fast, thrilling, technical, exciting, or media friendly, but at least it can be physically harder. So the enduro gods decided that we must suffer to validate their new sport.
And suffer we did.