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Living My Best Life - Part One

21 June 2022

Words: Robin Pieper
Photos: Robin Pieper & Dominic Blissett
Video: Dominic Blissett

Chasing endless summers, Robin Pieper checks in from her Northern Hemisphere base in Squamish, BC. With a little more idle time on her hands than anticipated due to a broken collar bone, she looks back on a most excellent Kiwi summer of enduro and adventure.

Coming into October last year, I had no particular plans for the summer. I’d spent the winter working at Further Faster Outdoor, and embarking on my first ever properly structured off-season training program thanks to Jamie at Athletica. I thrive on structure and routine, so winter training wasn’t onerous for me. And I never tired of all those sunrises at the top of the Port Hills. As the days got longer and warmer, I reaped the rewards from feeling strong and fit on the bike.

The question of what to do for a job remained. I poked my nose into the Christchurch Adventure Park (CAP) to find out what they were about. Little did I know it at the time, but I would end up spending most of my waking summer hours there. I discovered a real passion for mtb instruction - teaching people from all walks of life and sharing my love of bikes with them. CAP is a fantastic place for an all-immersive bike lifestyle, and a huge amount of fun.

Phoenix Enduro

The race season opener was the Phoenix Enduro at my new 'home' - the Christchurch Adventure Park. After missing the first two editions of the Phoenix, I was stoked to see a hard course set for 2022... top to bottom runs, technical riding, mid stage sprints and a few jumps gift wrapped into 6 stages. I raced consistently, with a few mistakes here and there but nothing major. It felt good to have a big day on the bike.

On the hunt at Phoenix. Photo: Dominic Blissett

At prize giving it was quite the shock to see my name near to top of the list. For the first time in my life, I was chasing seconds, not minutes, for a podium spot. A time-costly pass of another rider on the last stage resulted in a sixth place overall. Was stoked with that, but the close times allowed me a glimpse of what might have been.

This was a huge turning point for me. Previously I had always hoped for good results, but expected a mid-pack result. After Phoenix, I realised the missing ingredient hadn't been fitness or bike skills but self-belief and trusting in the consistency of the process. I was amped for the next outing.

Sunrise is a pretty good early morning training motivator. Photo: Dominic Blissett

Crankworx Super D

Crankworx Summer Series brought a Super D race to my previous home town of Alexandra the following month - a shuttled 3 stage enduro on tracks I knew and loved, with a world class field to contend with. It was unreal, perhaps more so with a wet practice day in the driest place in New Zealand.

I came into it thinking I could do well, and wanting to push hard. It was perhaps not the smartest practice strategy in the wet. I took a big crash, slipping my front wheel on the entry to a rock feature and rag dolling to the bottom and off the track.

A lucky crash as it turns out, suffering just a very sore thumb. I stressed sufficiently though, wondering if I would be able to hang onto the bars for the race. A stern sesh with the mirror told myself I wasn't letting a mere sore thumb mess with my race. I just needed to pretend it didn't hurt. A couple of painkillers, a very unscientific home taping job and I was good to go.

Unheard of: wet practice in Alexandra. Photo: Authentic As

This Super D stands out as one of the most fun of the season. When you know the lines and trust the rocks in Alex, it's an unbelievable place to ride. We were on some of my favourite tracks - with aspects of precise, technical, steep and fast all rolled into one. I gave it everything, trying get close to redlining at 100% but not overcooking it into a crash. On the first stage I was at about 95%, not wanting to prematurely end my race. For the second stage I opened the throttle a bit more, resulting in a tidy OTB mid-stage, although fortunately it only cost me a few seconds.

Stage 3 and I found the sweet spot. I think it’s about as close to a perfect run as I’d ever had in my life and my sharp time reflected that. Coming down the final steep chute hearing the vocal local crowd was something I’d never experienced before and quite special.

I finished 5th, amidst some international mtb names, and again I was super stoked to be in the zone where I was chasing seconds to try to gain a place.

Full gas in Alex. Photo: Authentic As

Not Just A Sore Thumb

There was a gap in the racing calendar through December and the first half of January - a welcome break. On the drive back to Christchurch after Crankworx, I couldn’t believe how tired I felt after only 3 shuttled stages!

Over the next week the fatigue developed into some classic concussion symptoms. I realised that the practice day crash caused more than just a sore thumb. I tried to race a local DH the following weekend and found myself off-balance, scared and ready to cry at the drop of a hat. Time to put the bike away, take some time off work and do a huge amount of very little for a few weeks.

I had a full month off the bike, helped by a late and wet spring that wasn’t inspirational for riding. In hindsight, I’m quite grateful for the experience of my first concussion. It taught me to honour my body when something doesn’t feel right instead of trying to push through it, and to be able to recognise the signs. Lots of naps, lots of time with my dog and close friends, and lots of time doing quiet activities outside. Almost a month to the day after Crankworx, it felt like the storm cleared in my brain. I was ready to ride and push again.

West Coast Therapy.

It was around this time also, following my two good races, that I channeled some ‘summer self-help’ with reading and audiobooks from authors like James Clear and Mark Manson. They helped re-iterate what was important to me and how to build on that glimpse of self-belief, and to follow the racing aspirations sparked for me at the Phoenix. It was good to refocus while taking time off the bike, chill with the perspective that rebuilding was part of the longer term aspirations, and allow me to get my mental game back into a stronger place.

Summer Break

Over Christmas and New Year, I scored a couple of extended-play weekends doing some bike and non-bike related missions. I had some fantastic days in Christchurch lapping the Adventure Park and swimming at the beach, as well as days on the West Coast that are as good as any I’ve had there.

Kea and I out doing what we love best! Photo: Dominic Blissett

Lapping ChCh Adventure Park. Photo: Dominic Blissett

Paparoa Track

2021 ended with a day trip through the Paparoa Track. I've ridden the Paparoa a few times now yet it never grows stale. Each trip is different and wonderful in its own way. The day was stunning with impressive views while traversing the tops, plenty of solar gain and time spent catching up with friends along the way. The real MVP of the day goes to Dad though, who for the third time shuttled us to Blackball and then biked in from Punakaiki to meet us for an out and back. Really banking those return investment points!

Stunning Paparoa tops.

Coastal rainforest.

Last sunset of 2021.

Wrapping up the News Year's break, I also managed a solo heli-tramp (thanks Precision Helicopters), a family day in Haast, a chill day in Hokitika and a bonus edition ride in Craigieburn on the way home.

A brilliant 5 days of stunning weather and various wholesome outdoor activities with wonderful people. 2022 was off to a roaring start.

Life rule: Never turn down the opportunity to hitchhike in a heli.

Good to still have mates on solo trips.

Wild gorges and a happy Robin.