Monday, 12 December 2016

Racing The Munga 2016 - Crossing Paths

As I lay there I became aware of a vehicle approaching. I saw the glare of lights and the rumble of tyres on gravel and thought it was a car. Within seconds I became aware of the unmistakable thrum and pop of mountain bike tyres moving over hard gravel. A silhouetted figure crouched low behind a bright LED light whizzed past. I didn't know who it was but was keen to catch up and ride along with them. The early hours of the morning are the perfect time to have company. The small talk helps while away the hours and keeps the sleep monsters at bay.

I caught up quickly and introduced myself. My riding companion did the same. I had finally made the acquaintance of someone I knew by reputation only. Firstly as an outstanding cyclist and more recently in relation to his name appearing on the list of doping cases on the South African Institute for Drug-Free Sport website. That was a few years ago and his ban had since expired. Still, there are critics who persist in turning the hate-churn handle.

I wasted no time in bringing up the matter of his ban. His answers were forthright and, in my opinion, honest. People fascinate me and I find myself asking all manner of questions. As we rode through the morning we chatted about his introduction to mountain biking, marriage and kids and the new life he is forging for himself since moving on from being a professional cyclist.

The Munga falls squarely into the genre of ultra-distance cycling. These long events, while requiring you to turn your legs over endlessly, also push you into an interesting mental space. While you keep tabs on your competitors you also keep checking and rechecking your own motivation for being on a bike. In this regard you bring your life experiences into the race. It gives it context and purpose and hopefully the motivation to press through your moments of doubt. Read through Kevin Benkenstein's race account you'll see how he leaned heavily on his past -

As the day wore on and we approached the second Race Village at Britstown I fell back and was left to ride into town on my own.

The nature of the race is that you pass some riders and some pass you. Occasionally you get to ride together. The company is always great even if you don't actually say anything. At the very least the other riders give you a gauge to measure your pace and progress.

The hours spent riding together into Britstown that morning left me with the impression of a man who, like me, enjoys riding his bike. Just like me he has a wife and kids, holds down a job and faces the same challenges of providing for his family. The person who rode off ahead of me was more than a tarnished reputation. He was a flesh and blood man riding his bike just like I was. He was a man whose company I enjoyed, albeit briefly, and would be happy to sit around the table and share a meal with. The history that trailed behind him had no place in that desert. It was of no import. We were just two guys pedalling our bikes in the harshest of conditions in the hope of making it to the finish in Wellington.

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