Bernie and Maria had only been riding mountain bikes for four months. They were part of a group of us that were thrown into the deep end to test out a new race concept and route in Patagonia, Chile. The Rally of Aysèn Patagonia was billed as one part endurance, one part enduro, and all parts adventure. The global group of guinea pigs was large and diverse—from bike-a-holic lifers to the freshly converted. Maria and Bernie were in for the adventure of a lifetime, and they didn’t even know it yet. This week was going to be a challenge for them in every way. It would record their biggest climbs, longest days, most miles ,and hardest downhills. Ever. And it would all happen in four back-to-back days of hot, intense riding. I was there to help them along, offer some tips, a bit of skills and technique advice, encouragement, and of course lots of laughs.
Chile doesn’t have a huge women’s cycling population. Bernie and Maria are two of a few women in Chile who don’t follow the crowd. They stopped caring about what the guys might be thinking, or what’s cool or ladylike enough, and are the next generation of women that will inspire and encourage other girls to ride bikes and explore the beautiful and varied landscapes that Chile is famous for.
I’ve been fortunate enough to do this sort of thing for many years now, but I still get the jitters that I knew Bernie and Maria were feeling: all the unknowns of a new destination, new tracks, new challenges, unknown food, weather, itineraries, challenges, and risks. It’s part nerves and part wonder and excitement. The only difference between myself and these girls was that I expected these feelings, and knew how my body would react in various situations—I’ve been through it many times over the past few years.
I offered some tips to my two riding companions for the week, along with some good old fashioned encouragement and good times! Here are the six main takeaways:
1. Ignorance is bliss.
I learned on the steep and nearly vertical trails of Laguna Beach – steep ups and even steeper down, with no trail grading system to tell me what I could or should and should not ride. It was the same for the girls in Patagonia. It was all new trails and blind riding in forests littered with natural obstacles. By completing the entire route with us, and diving head first into the unknown, their individual concepts of their abilties was raised significantly and they left as better riders.
2. Hike-a-bikes open new doors.
The riding scene in Patagonia is still in its early days. Without a big network of climbing tracks to reach the best descents, we often found ourselves slogging with our bikes on our shoulders through forests and up scree slopes. The payoffs on the descents nearly always outweigh the effort.
3. Timed riding is not only for experts.
While we were in Chile for the experience rather than just racing, the timed racing aspect did allow Bernie and Maria to focus on the task at hand and put all the advice and tips to use. They learned to read and interpret the terrain by looking ahead and making quick decisions, and maybe trying something new and slightly scary. Whether you’re railing it, getting off, running, tipping over, nailing a section, unclipping, spazzing out, or whatever you’re doing, you’re learning something every single time.
4. Nerves are good.
They are a powerful tool that you learn to both control and take note of. You learn to cope with situations under pressure and that translates back to everyday life at work and at home and school. It will make you stronger and more confident.
5. It’s okay to be in the back.
Theres nothing wrong with being at the back in a big group ride. This is how I learned to ride. I think that's how most people learn to ride. The struggle of trying to not get lost or left behind makes you push yourself that little bit harder, and it allows you to mimic the stronger riders in front of you, see their lines, and emulate their body position, style, and technique. With time, it will turn you in to a better rider.
6. Tough it out when it gets tough.
Overcoming and persevering is hugely rewarding. Maria and Bernie were amazing. Their positive attitudes and big smiles were contagious. They embraced all the elements of this big adventure, and they left as better riders for it. The new friendships made were the icing on the cake.
Cheers Chile, muchas gracias. Nos vemos mas tarde!