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Si Lay’s Blog from the New Zealand Pioneer Race

May 09 Uncategorised 0 Comment

Why do we ride mountain bikes? Except for a lucky few of us, it isn’t for work, and it isn’t even for our commute to work. I discovered why I ride bikes on the trail during The Pioneer race in New Zealand.
Yes, I was halfway up a 5km climb in the middle of an 7 day marathon mountain bike stage race, sat about as far from home as is possible when I worked out why I was there. Suddenly coming to a revelation after I’d already committed to being away from my family and business for 3 weeks is, I admit, just down right slack.
But, I’d heard this poem. They kept repeating it. A verse called “The Pioneer” by Arthur Guiterman. You can find it online, but the haunting lines I kept hearing in my head as I cranked up that climb are the closing refrain:
My joy because the trail is there,
My peace because the trail is good.
This is why I ride mountain bikes. This is why I set myself the challenge of riding 100’s of kilometres over mountains for day after day, chasing the person in front, trying not to cry at the pain, trying not to puke. Trying not to give up.
The trail draws me to it, when I see a ribbon of dirt, cut through the scrub, my heart lifts, the legs start turning and I ride. My mind opens to the world around me and the first world problems drop away. Getting over the hills, surviving the climb and the crazy descending is everything at that moment. It doesn’t matter that my bike is a ludicrously expensive mix of space-age materials, at the end of the day, this is man versus mountain. And man has no choice but to win, every time.
The Pioneer is a fantastic event, 7 days riding from Christchurch to Queenstown across the epic Southern Alps. From trail centre to open mountain ridges via wide canals and mountain passes. It is huge physical challenge, even the practicalities of training and getting to the start line would deter many, but I’d encourage everyone to at least consider if they can try it.
The logistics behind the event are superb. As a rider you get to focus on the simple act of making it over 545km of trail covering 15,508m of vertical ascent. The tent village, the volunteers, catering, the bar, the mechanics, the cheering fans and the feed stations. You can’t say they make the ride easy, but they do make it possible.
Mountain bike stage racing is a small community. You meet the same people in remote passes high up some ridiculous mountain year after year. Some of them are professionals who will race round in half your time, but they are, on the whole, just riders. Like you. Mountain bikers are like that, friendly, collaborative, people who like to meet.
Sometimes I like to ride alone, but riding as a flock, chatting about bikes, on the trail. That’s best.
My joy because the trail is there,
My peace because the trail is good.

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