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Man, I Feel Like a Woman

30 April 2018

By Ollie Whalley

Badly sung music can help us through tough times.

I’m a huge fan of badly sung music. Not for everyday listening, but for when riding gets really challenging. For example, at the end of a long day, with 120 km of dead straight road to ride, into a headwind, in the dark and rain, with the prospect of a soggy bivy and soggier chips your only reward. Under these circumstances I find myself bootting up the ol’ brainPod and hitting play on a playlist of bad pop tunes. Meatloaf, Shania, Britney and the Spice Girls all make the cut for this bottom of the barrel hit list which starts to spin around in the semiconscious haze that is my brain.

It starts out internally, my brain working through each melody. SPD’s mean I can’t tap my toes, but soon I’ll find myself standing for choruses and spinning easier gears for bridges.

A few km’s later and it usually escalates from the odd mumbled line, to full blown singing, belting out as much of the lyrics I can recall, and filling in memory blanks with invented words. Bad songs made even worse by the efforts of an exhausted bikepacker!

The strangest thing is that I wouldn’t be caught dead with this musical equivalent of McDonald’s on my everyday playlist. Just like bikepackers seek out the high-calorie and low nutrition options which serve to meet food needs with as little effort as possible, I do the same for my brain with this mainstream musical drivel.

Some bikepackers choose to ride with headphones and have pitch perfect music directly channeled to their ears. I tried this once with a playlist that included an enthralling zombie apocalypse podcast. It proved to be a great motivator to get to the finish of a Southern Brevet quickly with darkness approaching. However headphones can create safety issues and battery drain, while I’m yet to find a pair of headphones which will last longer than a day in my sweaty ears. There is also something empowering about singing aloud whatever song that comes into your head. I also like the idea that when not scaring away wildlife with my own singing, I can listen to the sounds of nature around me, and blocking this out just seems wrong. 

For whatever strange reason, the reptilian part of my brain always defaults to Shania Twain’s bootscootin’ ditty Man I Feel Like a Woman. It has seen me through endless sandy deserts, tropical monsoon storms and pie shortages. I usually belt this one out surrounded by wilderness. It wasn’t until I joined fellow Ground Effect Revolutionary Tristan Rawlence from Nelson to Hokitika as he blitzed the Tour Aotearoa course where the power of bad singing become more apparent. It was something I’d always done, a coping strategy honed through too many long days on the bike, and one which proved to be as fun in company as by oneself.

When searching for mental stimulation late on one day, Tristan offered up his own power song. You don’t have to like cats, or be a musical theater fan to enjoy Andrew Lloyd Webber’s epic ballad Memory. For some reason he had forgotten to call upon his usual default which is a profanity laden power song by The Oatmeal: The Mother f’n Pterdactyl.

A word of warning, take care with repetitive songs such as Lamb chops Play Along’s Song that Never Ends, or another song that some twisted Australian bikepackers favoured titled Pink Fluffy Unicorns Dancing on Rainbows. Surely these are the long distance cyclist’s equivalent of waterboarding!

So don’t be shy, next time you are feeling a bit down on a long ride, cast aside your inhibitions (just like you’ve probably done with your personal hygiene) and belt out some songs badly.