‘It was George Clooney, not Tim Allen –‘
I’m not listening to the chat being tossed between the riders passing me. My head’s down, my whole self out of sync with this habitat – big hills, big guys and big bikes. But then I realise they’re asking me.
‘Do you know?’
‘Who played Buzz Lightyear? George Clooney or Tim Allen?’
Immediately, I distrust them but I fight that along with every other emotion raging through me, telling me to give up and go home. ‘No idea. My money’s on George though.’
They move on, broad backs bent, calves tight with the firm rhythmic pressing on the pedals. ‘Yeah, Allen doesn’t have the charisma.’
I watch as they pass Dave up ahead, disappearing into the drizzly murk, and I return to the emotional chaos that Dunkeld Enduro is wreaking inside me.
Stage 1 is already behind us; steep in places, an awkward slop-fest in others. Optimistically, I wonder if it has broken me in, would Stage 2 feel a little steadier? How much did this place have to give?
Quite a bit it turns out – more sludge, off camber roots, sludge, rock garden with inserts of sludge, shiny big-assed roots like claws across what would have been a flowing trail were it not for them and the intermissions of sludge. I am just about staying on the bike but am in no way competitive and this, along with a feeling of not belonging, is getting me down.
As we pedal away from Stage 3 familiar feelings of frustration, self-loathing, a desire to simply run or totally breakdown are all fighting for space in my chest cavity. They escape in bitter snipes at Dave who is just trying to get by, riding his own race. The only civil thing I manage to say is this: ‘so, did those guys ask you about who played Buzz Lightyear in Toy Story?’
It was a little like clouds parting, which incidentally was happening above us; our dull rain-soaked day was brightening. I saw that exchange in a different light and shame, more powerful than anything else I had been feeling, pressed on my heart. ‘Do you think they were saying…?’
I didn’t need to finish. Dave was looking at me and his face said ‘ASTRONAUT’. I knew instantly he was looking at a 40 year old woman whose head was encased in a rounded fluorescent helmet, body was wrapped in Goretex and who was carrying an over-large backpack-could-be-rocket-pack. I even had that chest-swelling posture of defiance about me, and my chin…well, perhaps I am going too far. I desperately wanted to laugh at myself. But I could not experience anything beyond an intense despair.
The final stage (Stage 4 for those doing the Lite version) was within the Craigvinean Forest, well known for its downhill trails. On the way up we fell in with a white-haired rider on his way to Stage 5. ‘It’s a lot of fun,’ he said of Stage 4. I scrutinised him – outfit, physique, signs of craziness about the eyes? – I needed to know if he might have a twisted sense of fun.
It was long, known as ‘7 Stages’ because of the seven fire roads crossed before the end. It should have been fun. But I was nervous about riders coming from behind. When one does come I’m about to enter a short steep onto one of those fire roads and there is nothing I can do about it. The best thing is to get it done. I drop down and he drops behind me, skidding onto his side in an effort to cut by on the inside. I might have muttered something apologetic before pedaling after him, down a fire road, onto a ridge of fresh churned earth, soon to be sludge; most definitely not infinity or anywhere like it.
At the end, out on the road, the tears poured and the pain came in gasps. Dave said I should move to a gateway and I did. And there I just let the fear and self-loathing ooze out of me, relieved to see them go.
That evening, watching the sun disappear behind the Georgian rooftops of Edinburgh, soothed by beer and warm clothes, I threw it out there to our hosts, Debs and Gills – it was entirely possible that I had been compared to Buzz Lightyear during the race. I could effect mock outrage by then, but inside there was a sting.
‘So, what exactly did they say?’ Gills asked. ‘Like was it, “who do you think played Buzz?”’
I’m nodding. ‘Exactly like that.’
‘Aye. We’re good at ripping it out of the English. We’ve been doing it for centuries.’ She might have said something about banter. That word. The one that means you just have to stand abuse no matter how it feels.
Banter means the playful and friendly exchange of teasing remarks. What I experienced was not playful and friendly, rather, a little cruel. Those guys had all the power as they pushed on past me in their costumes of matching kit and team jerseys. Comfortable, supported and endorsed by each other, riding trails they know with skills far outstripping mine. This was their habitat and they were the ‘pack’. I, on the other hand, was a slightly out of place woman, riding these trails for the first time in her life and who’d used all of her strength just to turn up. But if I had had any left, I might have channeled my inner Buzz and called out to them, ‘you are a sad, strange little men and you have my pity.’ A direct(ish) quote that don’t think would have helped!
So, despite what could have been great trails (if I had let them be), good organisation and kind marshals, Dunkeld was a rough entry into 2019 enduro racing. And, if I took anything from it it was questions:
Why do I put myself through it?
If I want to continue how can I find a different perspective to approach from?
Is there actually a dominant culture in enduro racing? If so, do others find it intimidating?
How can I make my riding more competitive?
What about my kit? This spaceman needs to shed some weight!
And finally, is it really possible to go BEYOND infinity?