The Sherpa Class
At least that’s the way I saw it when I first started riding.
24-hour racing changed that. It brought teams to mountain biking. In came the idea of team support. Hell, you might even be called foolish for not having your own personal team mechanic, cook and masseuse. But with that came all the team dynamics. Now, a really skilled teammate can make you appear a little less pitiful, or a sleepy teammate can screw it all up.
But not all’s lost. There are still plenty of individual pursuits to be found in mountain bike racing. And now that we have endurance races, that individualistic aspect has been garbled just a little more.
Take for example the Wilderness 101. Racers cover 101 miles of Pennsylvania’s most rugged terrain, climbing over 10,000 feet of vertical. This year’s winner, Chris Eatough took the win in just over 7 hours. But along the way are aid stations. You can choose to plant a plastic bag with any extra equipment at any of these 5 locations. You can refill water, grab some food or get a ride back to the start at any of the roughly 20-mile intervals.
They call this a supported race.
The first year I “raced” the 101 (and I put race in quotes because while I approached it as a race, I was so unprepared that my attempt could barely be considered race-like), I didn’t know about the aid stations ahead of time. So I decided to carry a pack with about twenty pounds of gear, including extra clothes, food, 100oz. of water, a spare derailleur and disc rotor. Fitting for a day in the backcountry, but total overkill for this race. Minutes before the race start, Chris Scott, Wilderness 101 organizer, approached me and said, “Dude, you gotta shed the weight. That’s going to kill you.”
Of course, I didn’t listen.
I suffered 13 and a half long hours in the saddle.
This year, my third year participating, I decided to ride with two good friends, Karl Rosengarth and Carol Clemens. We called ourselves, Team Us. With Karl and I on full suspension bikes and Carol on her singlespeed, we huffed, puffed, laughed, joked and grinded our way all the way through some of Pennsylvania’s most challenging singletrack.
Along the way, we saw some pretty odd sights. And while I’m pretty sure the Orca-fat lady taking her miniature poodle for a walk to end of her driveway on her 4-wheeler wasn’t due to hallucination, a few other things I saw could have been.
One thing we saw was people making the same mistakes we’d all made before—people climbing way too fast out of the start, riders not drinking or eating enough and some people riding bikes that looked and sounded like they’d never been maintained.
The best though (and I say this only because I’ve been there), was the rider with too much gear. A backpack fit for a weekend getaway in the Pyrennes, piled high with what looked like tin cups, a stove and extra raingear. As Karl, Carol and I played leapfrog with the poor suffering guy, we joked that he should have entered the Sherpa Class.
And the more I think about it, the more I think our joke has some merit. Singlespeed not hardcore enough for you? Become a Singlespeed Sherpa. Strap on forty pounds of gear and try riding that same bike, the same distance. Riders could have their packs weighed before the race, with time points being given to the heaviest pack. Bikes would be developed on their weight-carrying capacity instead of their climbing ability. Instead of bottle cages, you’d find hooks and straps for clipping on travel mugs or stainless steel thermoses. Bikes would be named, not after white guys with the most money and free time, but after the Nepalese workhorse who helped bring his gear to the top of the mountain.
Yeah, the Sherpa Class. I kinda like that.
Karl and Carol, thanks for the company.
And to the guy who inspired the Sherpa Class, give Chris Scott a call. Next year, the title’s yours. But you’ll have to fight me for it!
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