One of my favourite cycling quotes of 2018 was from a wise ‘old’ Fox who quipped “I didn’t know how much I didn’t miss it until it happened again.” Almost two months post Pioneer and when I reflect on it for this final wrap up post, this line jumps out at me as being perfectly relevant for the physical and mental challenges of that week in the South Island late last year.
2019 is getting it’s froth on, but I’m yet to honour the week long sufferpig fuckfest with a traditional wrap up post, which naturally includes a thin veil of trying to dispense some questionable advice for those harbouring a closet desire to fuck themselves up in twenty-19. If you made it through all the race reports, then you may, or most likely not, have two questions burning away like a UTI:
- Why the fuck?
- Did I actually have fun?
The ‘Why‘ I vaguely covered in the Mission Briefing, but having now completed it and reflected on it, I think part of the drive to do things like this is about how relatively easy life is in the modern world. Ok, so there are still some seriously shitty parts of the planet where it’s anything but easy, but in the context of history we no longer have to worry about being skull fucked by prehistoric monkeys, nor are we required to outwit sabre-toothed tigers when hunting mammoths for dinner. Instead we get to focus on a host of First World Problems such as “Why don’t my friends believe that my dog is a person too?!” or “Why the fuck isn’t there a more appropriate Emoji to express my Faux outrage to this opinion piece which I just voluntarily read on line and now must comment on even though I have no relevant experience or expertise in?” As I like to say to kids who hate basic household chores, it is indeed a hard knock life now.
Yes, in the timeline of history we are extremely privileged and lucky, which is why we had to invent Smart Phones to aid our self-destruction and yes, enter 6 day Marathon XC stage races to remind us that at our core, most humans harbour a strong desire for self destruction. Maybe there’s something in our DNA that still screams out that we need some hardship from time to time, perhaps we have an inner Viking which is filled with rage each time we order food to be delivered to our door? Clearly there is a desire for us to go out and do things that on paper illicit an initial reaction of “Fuck that bru”
Agreed, it’s hardship in a very controlled and safe setting, we’re not making a life or death call on whether we should push through to the summit of K2, but on the flip side it’s a significantly more desirable situation than sitting in a meeting with some muthafucka from Risk who puts up their PowerPoint presentation and says “Now, I’m not going to read all these slides…“, before they proceed to do exactly that. Yes, in our cookie dough soft world, we need to be punished every now and again and I think for a lot of the racers there the suffering IS the point.
The fun aspect? I don’t really go in for Type 1 & 2 fun discussion, but I understand it’s theory. Whilst I don’t subscribe to concept, the Pioneer is definitely something you perhaps reflect on and feel more fondness for post the event as opposed to feeling smothered in Dirt froth & elation while you’re bleeding out orifices which have been queuing up for the job within about 5 minutes from the start of each day.
In terms of actual in the moment fun, admittedly the best part for me, aside from the long, crazy fast downhills and the epic Bandito slaughtering they entailed, was the way we rode as a team. Granted, we shot our loads sporadically each day like a couple of munted Yoyo’s, but aside from some of my Hanger melt downs where I kicked into text book self loathing, we never fell apart as a team and never ended up like some duos we saw riding the entire race separately or visibility disliking one another.
Knowing we were a cohesive unit and would remain so was definitely the highlight, but a special mention goes to the riding around Alexandra and some of the private land we got to navigate, a compelling reason to do this event for sure. Given how much time we spend bitching about not riding our bikes enough, getting to ride them all day in amazing locations is without a doubt an experience worth suffering some for. You won’t finish this race thinking “Yeah, wish we’d had another couple of days”
A word about the vibe
All the multi day races I’ve ever done have had a much more intimate vibe, in terms of the feel and size of the community involved. This is absolutely not the case with the Pioneer. Instead, the scent that you have filling your nostrils is more… commercial? This shone through with the number of riders almost doubling over previous editions, accomodation being chopped off either ends of the event, the considerable number of add on services you had to purchase and not to mention that average age of 45 years old.
Although it will appear otherwise, this is not a criticism, but more a reality of what you may experience, especially if you’ve come from more low key events. A beast like this demands a certain level of investment to make it happen and likewise an expected return delivered. You need to bear in mind that entry fee aside, this campaign will conservatively cost you somewhere between $5k to potentially $15k once you factor in the end-to-end costs of the build up, training camps, equipment (hello drivetrain destruction), travel and entry fee, which is obviously where that average age of competitors is coming from… This thing is well outside the usual Grom budget.
It’s worth bearing in mind that Pioneer is owned by the Ironman organisation, which of course was purchased itself by Wanda Sports group… And Wanda Sports Group is part of Wanda Group, which is China’s biggest commercial real estate developer, with aims for revenue of $100 billion by 2020 (poor cunts only made $40 Billion in 2014).
SO, as you can imagine, this isn’t about a race organiser doing it out of passion or a love of the Mountains, A la Ash from Trans Provence, or the Monten Baik crew in Chile. I’m not saying there isn’t considerable passion from the actual Event Crew who put Pioneer on, don’t get me wrong there, but while it was probably not obvious to most competitors, having had the privilege of some smaller events I could definitely smell the business model in action here.
If you’re a first timer to this type of event, chances are you will be able to embrace the warmness of ignorance about this aspect, but if you’ve ever been a party to the intimacy of smaller events that are independently run by one or two people, then you will notice the differences, as well as what sort of beast this is.
It can indeed feel at times like it’s part of a machine, something we were reminded of every time we were encouraged to apply for Cape Epic entry, or that this race is part of an “EPIC” series, which of course you can ride on your “EPIC” bike, because ultimately there is mucho money to be made in making Middle Managers feel fucking “EPIC maaaaaaate!” It’s everyone’s chance to escape Spreadsheets and the dreariness of first world life to participate in their version of Fight Club without the trauma of actually being punched in the face.
Yes, somewhere there is a PowerPoint presentation out there outlining how this is about getting you into the game and then cross selling the fuck out of you across the board. Somewhere you’re referenced in said presentation as exactly the type of consumer they’re looking for and no doubt there’s a plan in there somewhere to help you cut the sleeves off your cycling jersey and a discount voucher for short socks when you’re ‘epiced out’ so you can be cross-pollinated across into the Ironman stable. Don’t worry, I’m not going full anti-capitalist here, but thought it worth pointing out the difference in vibe you may experience if you’re coming from the small event side of life, especially if that side happened to be gravity related.
From one Soap box to another
I’m going to assume a couple of things here when dispensing advice to give this some context. Firstly, I’ll assume you’re heading to Pioneer in 2019 or beyond to have a crack and not just survive it. Secondly, that you lie around 5 years plus or minus the average age for 2018 of 45 and thirdly, that you’re relatively new to multi-day Marathon XC racing. As an added caveat, I’m obviously coming at this with a Gravity orientated lens, so if you have done multi-day ENDURO races before then you need to tune into the differences as they are substantial.
I haven’t gone too in-depth with talking about training here, because that’s a whole post in itself, not to mention I am definitely not a model citizen in that department. So, instead here are some dubious as fuck insights for Before, During and After the Pioneer.
Part I – Before
The Family sign on – Most likely this is a 6 to maybe 9 month commitment for most teams, or you may actually be obsessing about it for 12 months. As you work your way into whatever maniacal training plan that’s been agreed with your Bad Hombre team mate, there is one group of people who are going to get continually fucked over: Your Family. Assuming you have one, this will be the biggest juggling act along the way, sitting above not getting injured, sick or completely exhausted, but don’t worry, they will be competing for your attention as well.
This won’t be something you’ll be able to vaguely hide from your partner like your Instagram soft porn fetish (“But babe, it’s just Yoga and stuff“), so front foot that shit and outline what everyone is in for – A relatively all consuming and possibly futile amateur sport endeavour of weekend destroying proportions. Prepare them for the fact you’ll be late to all scheduled social events, won’t want to eat anything whilst there, may fall asleep while Brian talks about his lawn and generally just be a useless cunt around the house.
Ask the kids to list down their preferred alternate father figures so that you can outsource the hard things which require any physical input for the 6 months pre race and terrify the family pets into submission to the point it will only take a raised eyebrow for them to comply.
Not getting the home team on board will only make the whole escapade significantly more painful than it already will be, so this is number one on the pre-flight check list. Extra benefit if you can get your gang semi integrated with your team mates, making for more harmonious training camps.
Eliminate any weakness – If you roll into the Big P with some sort of niggle or long term issue then the race is going to hunt it down, pull it’s pants down and conduct untold horrific probing until you fold like an origami gimp. Don’t try and hide it or ride around it and fucking hell, she won’t be right maaaaate, so invest the time up front to cure any woes. Naturally this means trying to uncover new ones as well and then sorting them – Especially cramp! Whilst I got on top of my cramping addiction, I did end up with some hammy issues on the last 2 days that I could have done without.
You’re going to be spending a lot of cash in this campaign, so it’s worth going in fighting fit.
Pre Race as a team – When the ramp on the landing craft goes down, you don’t want to find out the person next to you doesn’t know how to fire a rifle do you? Luckily you only have to experience that shit in Call of Duty these days, but the general premise here is legit: Find out how you operate as a team under live combat conditions, which is also known as ‘Over hyped amateur masters racing’.
You’ll not only learn a lot about how to ride together as a unit, but assuming you have some basic capabilities in the self reflection department, then you’ll also be able to refine your shit for the big show. We only did one race as a team, a super weird 120km Gravel & Road (Allegedly ‘Groad’) race against people on actual gravel bikes, while we were on MTB’s for an absolute hiding and while it was a laughably weird outing, we did glean some valuable data points for Pioneer from the experience.
We also spent a lot of time soft pedalling around rad singletrack talking about how fucking hard it was going to be as well as having in-depth discussions about 1 X gear ratios instead of finding climbs that went for an hour or more. Don’t do this.
Lose weight – This is not usually advice I would ever dispense, but muthafucka, just do it. You’re going to be spending a LOT of horrendously awful moments going up and every kilo you have strapped to your chassis is going to hate your face with every pedal stroke. Think of it as free speed, or more appropriately, free lube for the fisting to come.
You really do need to transform yourself into a racing sardine for this one, so factor that in. I managed to lose around 10kg’s, proving that all my jokes about croissant gang bangs were absolutely Le True. Alternatively you can stay cuddly, just don’t come crying to me when you’re actually crying on Mount Difficulty (Yes, it’s real name).
Train on the right machine – Keeping up my usual tradition of training on the wrong machine and in the wrong discipline for an upcoming event, I did a shit load of Gravel miles on the Stigmata and road miles on Herr Piggy. Whilst this did add some value, I couldn’t help but self loathe halfway up those hour long climbs wishing I had spent a lot more time on the MTB and particularly on the appropriate terrain, which just quietly I struggled to find.
Follow up – On a related topic, get a machine you LOVE, which is code for get a Blur, but seriously, if you don’t like your bike or you feel it has some weaknesses or things that annoy you, by the end of the week you’re going to set the muthafucka on fire or just leave it unlocked outside Atlas Beer cafe hoping someone with a particularly aggressive strain of gonorrhoea steals it (highly likely in qTown). Also, as per usual standard advice here: Don’t head into the race with new kit that is untested or unridden, so time that final service well before the race. Yes, I know… I absolutely gave my own advice a solid Golden Shower dropping an all new machine 4 days before the event, but fuck, can you blame me?
Get a good physio – Or Osteo, or Chiropractor, or Chinese masseuse, or just some bogan masseuse who happens to brush their fingers suspiciously close to your ass crack, or whatever does it for you when it comes to repairing your chassis, because you’re going to be fucking it up good and proper in the build up phase. The training for this thing will both uncover some issues you need to work out, plus will be vastly more effective the better you can recover and keep your muscles in one piece.
Test everything – Like seriously everything… Your food, your gels, your pack, your shoes, gloves, helmet, gimp pool ball harness, you name it, just make sure you flog it in the build up to make sure it works and that you work with it. If it’s looking marginal then replace that muthafucka with enough lead time before the race to break it in. Yes, this advice is brought to you by the hypocritical cunt who rocked up with a new bike which had 2 shake down rides on it, but that’s 2018 in a nutshell.
Do a road race – Or better still, do a road race on your MTB just to make cunts melt down. Ok, so this part is the shittiest piece of advice here, but my point being you need to get comfortable riding in large groups with people who have no real concept of riding in large groups mostly, I agree, a terrifying prospect. I wasn’t prepared for those large bunch high speed fuckpig orgies each morning, so learn from my horror and turn up ready.
You don’t need to road race per se, as somewhere in your town there will be a weekly Hell ride, where people who have shaved arms, eating disorders and aero helmets which make them look like Alien dildo’s meet to tear each other to pieces in a mildly more polite version of fight cub for people who can’t go to work with black eyes. Go and do that ride a few times to prepare yourself for the horror of mass starts every day with wildly differing levels of experience and bike handling skills.
Part II – During
Nomnomnomnom – This race is basically about eating… And Eating… Before, during and after. It’s about eating when you don’t want to eat and possibly having a tantrum due to lack of eating. All my bad patches or melt downs related to food – either not having enough intake or losing the plot trying to access food (pockets become really hard when you’re 5 hours deep and totally cunted). I had a whole food schedule worked out, but no plan ever survives first contact with a start hooter and as the days wore on it simply descended into eating almost constantly.
To start with Bone and I also thought we were too cool for the feed stations, don’t look this gift horse in it’s beautiful snout. By the end we treated them like religious pilgrim stops, mainly to gorge on savoury food for a change (Marmite sammies and the salted potatoes get special mention). To be noted, the Bacon & Egg buttie with Coke at the end were basically compulsory… The race does a great job with food stalls (make sure you have cash/card) and the breakfast and dinner’s were always on point. Don’t stop eating, especially when you’re completely cunted.
Compulsory as fuck – So the compulsory gear aspect really is just that, so don’t bother trying to fudge it, or possibly suffer the fate of the dudes next to us in the pig pen who didn’t have a merino hat for one of their riders and got a 15 minute penalty. Yes, you will likely not use the gear, but you do need to carry it. Semi Pro tip – Try to make it as small and light as possible, we were too lazy to do this and I wish we had, so read up the rules and then get busy.
That Prologue – Want to run with the big egos? Then you’re going to have to earn that shit from the start. Just to contradict myself straight away, if you want to be in Group A or B to get sucked along results wise, then getting in the life raft from the outset probably your best bet. You’ll therefore need to invest in giving the Prologue a few deep strokes. Also, if they ask you to self seed, then don’t be modest and put a slow time, unless of course you enjoy getting reamed by traffic.
Or, if you’re super clever, perhaps start in Group C and work your way up to A by the end? Possibly fucking hard to swing, but I can attest to the fact it’s easy to go the other way…
“Race for the week, not the day” – I’ve mockingly put this in quotation marks because it’s what Bone and I said we would do and indeed even thought we were doing, only to find that we were ultimately surrounded by people who DID actually do this, while we behaved like a couple of 8 year olds left with a box of snickers bars and a pound of blow.
AKA ‘riding your own race’, at times this can be extremely hard to accomplish when the red mist descends, or you’re having a particularly good patch where the sensations beg at you to give it some hammer. We can attest to the power of picking one speed and churning through it as we were haplessly mowed down by the greatest proponents of the single speed ethos in Peg & Kath. You really do need to think about your pacing for the week and remember that you will be unlikely to find some magic speed on Day 4, so pace accordingly. Much like an ENDURO, your speed is your speed, so trying to bullshit that may end badly.
Get the massage package – And once you’ve done that, make sure you get in as early as possible to book each day, because this is going to end up being one of the single most important parts of your post ride ritual. You only get 30 mins and will likely get a different person each day, so prioritise and get your chassis un-fucked pronto. It’s not something best left for DIY:
Roll the dice on the Aid stations – This is really the Pack vs No-Pack debate. As per usual, I had significant cycling status anxiety towards those who were able to roll packless (I’m looking at YOU Wade), but in this instant I was also bewildered. While I never had to refer to my Evoc for food stashes, I did DP my 3L bladder often and my pockets were full, so not sure where the packless people stowed their mandatory equipment, but I think the bigger concern was self reliance.
On a number of occasions the aid stations weren’t quite where advertised, with one on the Alex day seeming to just vaporise before us. I know on a number of days I wouldn’t have made it between aid stations without running out of water if I was on a single bottle, so don’t succumb to the coolness of being packless if you’re a thirsty cunt.
Look up – One of the Pro Elite riders gave this simple advice at the race briefing, to look up and enjoy the amazing surroundings and scenery over the coming days ahead. Naturally I scoffed at this under my breath and Bone and I possibly pulled faces… I then proceeded to look at my stem or handlebars for the week while being exactly that guy who forgot I was outside (and no, it was not fucking free). Make sure you actually spend some time bathing your eyes in the glory of this southern land, it’s as unique as it is stunning and for those of you with a LOTR stiffy, this will be right in your honey hole.
Bag it & tag it – This is actually more along the lines of “Do everything beforehand to save you time during the race“, mostly as you need all the time you can get to chill and recover for the next days hostilities. I stole this idea of a DNGC Affiliate from the ex-United Kingdom, who outlined to me the method of bagging and numbering your riding kit for each day of racing. This held deep appeal to my inner Patrick Bateman, so I set about not only bagging all my riding kit, but also food for each day. Result? When you crawled into your either wet or 40 deg super heated tent, you just grab the bags for the next day and you’re all set. A great outcome as I had no energy for rummaging and sorting.
No easy days – This may seem obvious given how prolifically I’ve majestically masterbated over the difficulty of the race, but when you’re in the thick of it, you may look at some days compared to others and think “Oh, sweet, that’s an easy day” No cunt, just absolutely no. We mistakenly applied this logic to Day 1 (after the prologue) and day 3, as they appeared either to have less climbing or transitional in nature.
To start to fantasise about any of these days being ‘easier’ is a bit like arriving at a CIA Black site and after a couple of days saying “hey bro, I actually thought the water boarding wasn’t as bad as having my scrotum hooked up to the electricity” it’s all very fucking hard, as inevitably the pace goes up when it gets to the on-paper ‘softer’ stages. Get your head around this and plan for the worst, but hope for the best. Alternatively, you may want to give your team mate the Speirs Speech to make them more effective and not get sucked into any false hope:
There’s no ‘I’ in team, but there is a ‘U’ in Cunt – As a final word, this week and the race is all about team work. I don’t want to sound like a cheesedick HR poster you see up at work, but if you want to make the dream work, sort out the fucken teamwork. We saw a lot of team riding separately, which aside from the risk of being DQed, was just straight up weird… Why bother entering this race to spend the week riding potentially hundreds of meters apart? And yes, we also noted a few tantrums out there…
Which brings me to this final piece of questionable wisdom: You’ll each go through low patches and you’ll each have moments where you want to really hammer it, but ultimately you need to spend most of your time smoothing out the peaks and troughs you both may be having to keep that shit harmonious. In fact, you have to be cheer leaders for one another and you have to be proactive to think through what your team mate may need… Are they hungry? Do they need a gel? Should you grab their dinner for them? Do they need a pep talk if they’re loudly calling themselves a “fucking cuntbag” in front of frightened tourists? Don’t bother turning up if your Bromance Kung Fu is weak.
Part III – After
Assuming you make it to the end and don’t get Blue Boarded (semi unrelated to blue balled), then you will not only have a jazzy finishers medal that your kids will ignore or try and sell for Fortnite V-bucks, but you will likely emerge with new found super powers the likes you’ve not experienced before.
Yes, ride 450km’s or so on your MTB basically full gas in 6 days and crazy shit will happen to your form and your cycling chassis. There may be the outside chance you won’t want to touch the bike for a few months, but for those of us fucked in the head enough to want to roll on, you may find yourself transformed into a terrifying dirt beast who no one will want to ride with… Except for your friends you’d previously lost to eMTB’s (muthafuckas know who you are).
The 2019 race also happens a week later than 18, with it running the first week of December, so you’ll likely be getting rammed with Christmas fuckbaggery by the time you get home and re-learn how to walk properly.
Then there’s the counselling sessions with the family as you work through the reunification process after you’ve arrived back looking like you were just released from a North Korean ‘Labour’ camp… But assuming you survive all this and don’t put 10kg’s over Christmas, you will find yourself itching to unleash a fucking two wheeled beat down on someone or some race, so plan to take advantage of your new super powers.
Oddly I decided that a week after Pioneer it would be a good call to do a 2W ENDURO to start the Bandito purging process. As it turned out I felt like a bag of loose dog shit all day, but then did something I have NEVER done before – I won a stage in my age group… More on this in the future, but yes dear long time readers in particular, I finally won something whilst having a timing chip on a bike. If you think you’re bewildered, imagine how I felt.
You had to suffer through all sorts of insanity to get these powers, so don’t let them go to waste… Even if your own kids start mouthing “Selfish cunt” at you as you disappear out the door while the tower of broken promises collapses behind you.
The $2500 question
Would I do it again? I’m a solid ‘Fuck NO’, aside from the usual stuff about there being lots of other events on this planet to do, I ended up zeroing in on three very specific reasons that its one and done here at Dirty HQ:
- Time commitment – There’s no way around this, again assuming you want to ‘Be Best’, it takes a massive amount of time. I haven’t wanked on too much about training plans and rituals here, but when you have a day where you have to do a 6 hour MTB ride and you live an hour from the forest, you’re disappearing for 8 to 9 hours on a weekend day which may make you feel like you have a ‘Selfish cunt’ tattoo on your forehead while your family looks at you with their best rejected faces on. It take a shit load of time in training, prep, bike shop visits, training camps and then the race itself. It’s also a lot of eggs to be putting in a single basket, especially when your team mate may smash them inadvertently (more on this below)
- Its very hard – It’s unusually hard. Sure, so is an EWS round, but that’s 2 days and you can quickly bounce back. Likewise with most 6 day ENDURO races there’s uplift and mucho chilling. Not so here, it’s just straight up fucking hard from the prologue count down to that last horrendous stretch of qTown bike path. While it was intriguing to experience it once, I don’t need to hate my body like that again in a hurry
- The partner aspect – I have saved this one to last, because to be honest it’s the biggest reason I wouldn’t return to Pioneer and it’s multi faceted. First of all, I was blessed with a distinguished and epic GC as a partner, given this is the most important thing, would I want to risk it again with someone else? No. Then there’s the fact that if you think through all the time and effort that goes into a build up and race like this, you’re trying to avoid all of the following: Over training, Under training, Not getting sick, Not getting injured, Not breaking your bike, Not losing the plot, Peaking at the right time… The list goes on and on right? It’s hard enough to do that solo, but now you have to try and ensure the other person nails all of those aspects as well. I only thought about it post event, but that’s a lot of risk to manage through the whole timeline.
It’s also quite a mission changing codes as it were to race something that was well outside my comfort zone. Great to have done it once and had the experience, but not something I would want to make a habit of, even if I can acknowledge the logic in also nailing the other EPIC events in the series while on a roll (See, its talk like this that gives product managers wet dreams).
If you love riding your bike a LOT, yearn to test/fingerbang your limits and think you’ve got a solid team mate in mind then absolutely the Pioneer is a must do event. The landscape and scenery alone is worth the mission and if they keep building in more singletrack like they did this year the event is only going to get more popular. Just don’t rock up with an illusions you’ll be able to BS your way through it and if you really do intend to go after a result, then a serious build campaign awaits you.
For 2019 it’s au revoir to Marathon XC and fucking Bonjour!! to Trans Provence, so stay tuned as we’re now only 4 months away from a frothing French reunion, with perhaps a cheeky EWS round on the way…