So turns out I’m not made of metal, as a massive rock on Endo 15 minutes from the finish line ever so kindly reminded me… but I did finish the Test of Metal. So I figure I must be made of something.
Guts and determination might not win in a rock-paper-scissors competition, but out there on the gruelling 67-kilometre course, they were what kept me going and brought me across the finish line in five hours, 39 minutes and 12 seconds.
Overall, I’m thrilled. Not only did I finish within the time limit — but there were actually people behind me!
Not to say there weren’t moments of doubt …
I started out fairly strong, pedaling my way to the top of Thunderbird harder than normal so as not to get stuck behind too many people headed up Jack’s Trail. My goal was to try and keep my friend Erin Meggait, who beat me by an hour in the Orecrusher, in sight as long as possible.
I was actually doing pretty well until we both hit the bottleneck traffic jam at Dead End Loop, and I didn’t see her again until the end.
I almost cleaned Rock ‘n’ Roll, but the second-to-last turn did me in and then I was running up the course trying to stay out of the way before heading into Rob’s and Cliff’s Corners with a huge grin of relief on my face to be heading downhill.
I thought the corners, which are usually one of my favourite sections, were a little rough and just before Rollercoaster I realized why… I forgot to unlock my suspension! So not only was I one of the only hardtails in the race, but I wasn’t even using the suspension I had!
My newly discovered bounce sent me into Rollercoaster confident that the race was going to be better from here on out, and the roaring crowds that met every racer at the bottom of the trail made me feel like a million bucks.
I crossed Carpenter Son’s Bridge and headed through the feed zone for the first time, ecstatic to find out I was 40 minutes ahead of the cutoff time.
My ecstasy was quickly subdued as I started to crawl up Nine Mile Hill… and briefly wondered if anyone would really notice if I just turned onto Westway and headed home.
Probably, I figured.
But my mind wandered and somehow landed on that annoying quote from the movie Finding Nemo – “just keep swimming, just keep swimming” except it went something like this, “just keep pedaling, just keep pedaling.”
I also figured that despite the fact that most of the racers ahead, beside and behind me were much more toned, intense athletes than I was – I was more confident pushing my limits uphill than I am downhill. So I made a promise to myself not to get off my bike, no matter what, until the top.
Tons of people (in my time bracket) were walking but I kept pushing, and the support from the riders I passed was key to my success.
“Good pedal girl!” – it’s amazing how inspirational such a simple encouragement can be.
I stopped briefly at the top of Bonk Hill for a Gatorade and a very kind volley wiped my face with a towel – only afterwards did I wonder how many sweaty dirty faces he had wiped with the same towel…
I continued on and managed to “just keep pedaling” across the Nine Mile Bridge and up to the entrance of Ring Creek Rip, where more amazing vollies made sure I was still breathing.
Ring Creek Rip, although normally a ton of fun, almost killed me because the loose rock had me gripping the handlebar so tight my knuckles were completely white (even though Mark taught me I shouldn’t have so much pressure on my hands – bad student) and by the time I arrived at the entrance to the Powerhouse Plunge, I was more than a little petrified.
The trail was greasy to say the least, but my saving grace was the fact that I knew the final time checkpoint was at the bottom and according to my watch, I had an hour and a half to get down. When I said that to someone at the top of the trail they laughed as though I was being funny – but I was genuinely serious.
Coming through the Feedzone the second time there were less spectators, but those remaining were cheering hard, including my Aunt Margot who came from to see me race. She handed me a fresh bottle, gave me a big hug (despite how mud covered I was) and I headed off for the last leg of the race.
Crumpit Woods – more commonly known as Crampit Woods – is right in my backyard and the trail I’ve ridden the most since my introduction to mountain biking last spring. Usually I have no problem climbing the switchbacks and managing both the downhills and the bridges, but after more than 50 kilometres of trail behind me, it seemed that every section had its challenges.
I was so disappointed with what a wimp I was being halfway through Endo that I mentally promised myself not to dismount again.
The thing I’ve realized about mountain biking though is that if you’re going to go for it – go for it – but don’t second-guess yourself halfway through because you’re dooming your chances.
This is what I did coming down a rocky narrow section on Endo. One pinch on the brakes at the wrong moment and all of a sudden I was flying into a rock. My face and my knee hit hard, and I ended up crumbled on the trail nearly in tears – partially because it hurt and partially because I was upset at the thought of not finishing.
Within seconds there were two race ambassadors by my side, asking me if I was OK and radioing first aid to check in.
“I’m just overreacting, I’m OK,” I said, trying to smile. “But I have to finish the race.”
One of the ambassadors put his hand on my shoulder, looked me in the eyes and said, “I know, hon. I read your story.”
Minutes later I was on my bike again, pedaling gingerly, and my heart nearly stopped when I saw yet another hill at the end of Plateau Drive. But I was saved by the toddler playing in his bike in the cul-de-sac on the left.
“Last hill!” he yelled shrilly.
His adorable dedication to making sure riders knew they were almost done gave me the drive I needed to clean the hill, descend the Smoke Bluffs and “race” down Loggers Lane.
I pulled through the finish with a massive smile on my face and was stoked to see a ton of friends waiting at the finish line. All I could think about was last year on this day I looked at the Test riders in awe, and now I had done it.
Woo hoo and thanks to Mike Hewitt, Devin Steif and Mark Bunyan for helping me learn to ride.