Entries for the 2017 Pioneer Mtb stage race open this week. Ever since I finished the inaugural event earlier this year, friends have been asking me “would you do it again?”. The answer is always a resounding “no”. I loved it and would cheerily recommend the Pioneer to others. But for me it just wouldn't be the same second time around. We were the Pioneers, and as Pioneers shouldn’t we be looking for the next challenge on the horizon?
To be honest I also feel the planets aligned for us in late January. A great summer of riding, perfect weather for the event, and a team-mate who broke the mould when they came to inventing Welsh/Australian Adventurer, Environmentalist and Humanist. Huw Kingston, ‘fresh’ off a self propelled circumnavigation of the Mediterranean dished out equal measures of mirth and satire to keep things in perspective on the sometimes gruelling (both mental and physical) elements of the race.
Huw, being 10 years my senior and limited to training on a singlespeed (why?), gave me a ‘buffer’ should my own weaknesses threaten throughout the week. True to form, Huw did drag my ass through some brutal gravel road sections at the point where my brain and body had asked, “what’s the point?”.
One of the things that got me to the start line was the fourth stage that took us over Ben Ohau. A hill (1,398m) at the foot of Lake Ohau that begs to be climbed. I’d scoped it from Ohau ski field over the last decade or two but never had the courage to take it on myself. There's nothing quite like a race to spur you on.
Stage 5 - the Queen Stage - was another highlight. The sheer ridiculousness of the course profile, the outrageous amount of climbing, and the perverse route far off the trodden track was compelling. It made the following two days look trivial (they weren’t!).
Who were the Pioneers in 2016? During our nightly briefing in the coolest outdoor lounge in the world, our travelling MC for the week would introduce some of the inspiring and touching stories attached to out fellow competitors. It was truly moving to hear their stories and reflect on your own challenges in life, and realise that you are a part of this mass movement of highly motivated, grit-toothed, life-tackling bunch of good people. Our tribe of sorts pulled together for a week of truly fun adventuring - compete with hot-showers and a buffet dinner each night.