My Test of Metal trials began long before close to 2,000 legs chugged and churned over classic local trails.
So, with my face plunged into dry Powerhouse dirt, my bruised bike hanging from a tree like an overripe banana, I waited for lightning to strike and the crammed switchback to crumble.
I'd been eager to compete in the Canadian epic ever since I chased riders with a camera and notepad last year. I saw the replenishing look of accomplishment on the riders' faces in the finish area and how cramped muscles were quickly reenergized by the fully charged feed station masses.
This year I was fortunate enough to experience, firsthand, the foundation upon which the Test of Metal is built.
But the test of my mettle began shortly after all 1,000 entries sold out in January. My fiancée Laura and I booked a flight to Ontario over the Test of Metal weekend, having read the race was a week earlier. The rescheduling fees were more painful than climbing Lava Flow.
But alas, that was settled. Just suck it up, I told myself. So what if you spend the week leading up to your life's biggest physical challenge drinking beer on a dock? Think of it as loading up on carbs.
I had forgotten about the exorbitant airline fees by the time I called "last run" at the Whistler Bike Park three weeks before the Test. I then proceeded to hoot and holler down Schleyer to Rock City, over to Crack Addict, A-Line, Hornet and the final three A-Line jumps. I ate it on the final jump, knocked myself out and separated my shoulder.
I now know the old adage rings true: never call "last run."
Cue weepy music and pan in on doctor explaining racing the Test is unlikely. Fade out as tears begin to fall. I am fortune's fool.
Two weeks later, however, I was lily-dipping in a canoe and drinking beer on the dock as originally planned. I even hopped on a bike borrowed from Laura's cousin. The sling was off and I could clutch the handlebar. Everything was going to be okay.
Come race day, everything was looking good. Since I only have a downhill bike, my wonderful friend Danna lent me her beloved (yet small-framed) Rocky Mountain ETSX 50, which Al Ross at Tantalus Bike Shop made more rideable by lending a longer stem.
I was aiming to finish under four hours and was on track near the end of the Plunge when a train of riders halted before the last switchback and I lost control, landing on my head and right shoulder yet again. But thanks to Test ambassadors Dave Gillie and Barry Wood, I felt alright. It's one thing to crash in the woods alone but another to have support from dedicated volunteers who fetch your bike from a tree.
My rear wheel was bent so badly that it wouldn't turn. And coincidently Laura was at that very switchback taking photos and quickly giving me sympathy despite having driven to Whistler to take me home from the hospital just three weeks earlier.
Hanging out at the bottom of the Plunge an hour later, I had almost come to terms with the DNF. I just needed to figure out how to get home. I soon ran into a stranger named Ken, who offered to smash my wheel against a rock enough that it would turn.
I'm proud to say I finished the Test. Partly on my own, but very much so because others had my back.