by Tandie Bailey | @tandielion
I ride mountain bikes a weird amount & race them as part of the Fayettechill Team. I’m an IMBA (International Mountain Bike Association) certified Ride Guide, lead group rides for our local chapter, and host a group called the NWA Dirt Divas. I’ve been riding for eigthish years and have raced Cross Country, Downhill & Enduro. Lately, I’m competing in a series of Enduro races & I’ve learned a lot in the process.
Quick note: mountain biking is an interesting (and inviting) culture, one that comes with a bit of it’s own lingo. I drew up a quick reference guide just in case:
- Enduro: A type of mountain bike race where only select sections of trail are timed
- Stage: The timed section of trail during an Enduro race
- Pinning: Going as fast as possible
- Dropping In: Starting a stage
- Dropped Chain: When the chain comes off the chainring; when this happens, you spin your feet but your bike doesn’t move forward
- Gnar Factor: level of difficulty (i.e. rocky, loose, rowdy, sketchy, scary)
- Stoke: excessively positive emotion
What it’s about.
With keeping my legs & lungs strong, the perpetual task of keeping my bike rolling smoothly, packing & traveling, racing takes commitment…but living this life is teaching me so much about the kind of person I want to be. The level of competition & gnar at these Enduro races is as high as the camaraderie & it’s amazing.
The gnar factor varies from race to race, but the stoke is always high. Racers take their time cruising to the top of each stage, but once you drop into a stage you’re on the clock…nine or ten stages later, the lowest time wins.
The most recent race had the highest gnar factor of the series & that was evident in my belly before dropping into stage one, so nervous. After a fist bump, a high five and a “chase my wheel”, we dropped in & pinned it. Ten stages, two river crossings & one dropped chain (there are no time-outs, hustle it back onto the chainring & keep rolling) later, I landed in 2nd place.
Appreciate the journey in between.
Winning is rad, but the way these races push the limits of endurance and skill makes you appreciate what you’ve done regardless of your spot in the lineup. We train & prepare weeks/months before each race so we can lay it all out on the line, but we don’t let our want to win blind us to the human beside us. In the end, we just want to get down the mountain safely to share a beer & a story at the bottom. I’m noticing parallels with that in life...we’re all just humans seeking out our best life, but the end game is to simply enjoy the days we’re given.
Don’t lose the magic.
Have you ever known you’re capable of something, but you hesitate because it scares you? That happens to me a lot on the trail, but then someone says “you can do it, just follow me in”. That’s all it takes, someone believing in you too. It’s true that “No Man Is An Island”, we need each other and having someone’s back is as rewarding as knowing someone has yours.
At these races, dropping into a stage you’ve never seen is dangerous; your competition becomes your beta giver. They paint a picture for the racers around them & help you prepare for that drop to your right after the twisted tree, or that weird left hand gravity cavity (thanks for the heads up, Ivy). That kind of support from your competitors is a weird & magical thing. The reality is, we’re all just people doing what we love and, like life, when you take it too seriously it loses it’s magic.
Roll with the punches.
You don’t know what these race courses are going to look like until you show up. The switchbacks come at you fast & you either go with the flow or you’ll end up in the dirt in a daze. Directly relatable to life, you can’t force the path, you’re on it, you prepare as best you can and when the time comes you have to trust your ability to handle the challenges that life brings, to roll out of them with grace & confidence, and maybe hope for a splash of luck.
Set a goal & prepare for it.
In racing, if you don’t train you’re going to burn up all of your matches before the race is done. It hurts to want to keep pushing, but not have anything left to give. I remind myself that you have to get up to get down, often. Knowing your goals & preparing to reach them is 90% of the win, that last bit is trusting that you’re capable.
Humility, respect and never giving up.
There are no mulligans in Enduro racing, once you cross that imaginary start line at the top of each stage, you don’t chill until you’re at the bottom. Sometimes racing is messy, sometimes you hit a tree & wrap your bike up in the middle of a stage, but you have to dust yourself off & keep pushing to the finish. We’re all on the same course, we all have the same opportunity to have a perfect run or a messy run. It’s up to you to give it all you’ve got. You might surprise yourself with a good result in the end, but you’re sure to fail if you don’t try.
Mountain biking is my passion-- I’ve met some cool people on the trails & I’ve learned a lot. At the end of it all, my favorite thing about this sport is the respect & humility it brings out in people. If you lose respect for your bike or the trail, you’re in the dirt; It’s hard to have an ego when you’re going over the bars...but don’t worry, we’ve all been there, we’ll help you up & buy you a beer after the ride.