At times, we all need a little help. Funny enough, in a world that has become so selfish, it seems much more difficult to ask for help than to actually receive it, despite the offers. Usually, the only barrier to help is pride. Pride in our strengths and abilities, pride in our resolve and determination to make it alone. Even within racing teams and social rides, cycling is a very solitary activity. Ever more so when those rides turn in to all day or multi-day adventures. But you know, some times, you just have to listen to Marcellus Wallace and say F*&% pride. There are moments when the smart choice is to look at a fellow human being and say “I need help.” It was this lesson I so clearly experienced while riding the Hellracer 250 on Sunday.
Looking for a long distance cycling event close to Squamish, the Hellraiser 250 was muttered once or twice as something I should look into. So I did, and found nothing. Posting online in search for answers, I soon learned that it’s the Hellracer 250. Pemberton, Darcy, Shalath, Lillooet, Pemberton; no support, no registration, no map, no timer, no after party, “just awesomeness” I was told in an email by the organizer, Chad. 150kms/90miles pavement, 100kms/60miles gravel and nearly 4,500metres/14,700feet of climbing. Apparently “awesomeness” and “suffering” mean the same thing up Pemberton way.
As I poked around a bit more, I learned that people enter this race in teams with a sag wagon providing support to limp riders dying on the saddle. “Pfssh, sag wagon, whatever, I’ll ride solo and self-supported. Sag wagons are for wimps. I’ll do it alone, rely on myself and what’s available on course. I got this.” Convinced of my invincibility, I rolled up at 5:50am for the 6am start, equipped with more gear and water bottles on my bike than anyone else. “I’m just more hardcore than they are, that’s all,” I tried to assure myself. Uh-huh…
The only face I recognized that morning was Juliet, who I’d met through work a couple months ago. She mentioned that her friend James and his Jeep would be her support for the day and that I was welcome to take advantage as I needed. I thanked her, but again, dismissed the need for help. Oh Alex, silly boy.
Within the first few hours I stopped at a mountain-side creek to get water. Filling a couple bottles and downing one right there, I splashed the cool water over my head and was set to roll. James pulled up just as I was set to get going and asked if I needed water. Although I had filled two bottles a minute ago, I thought maybe I should carry more, just in case, so I allowed James to fill my third bottle and drop in an electrolyte tablet. No big deal, one bottle, I thought, I’m still self-supported.
Following the hellacious gravel climb over Mission Mountain, the spectacular descent to Carpenter Lake and the smile-enducing ride along Bridge River Rd, I was out of water and not sure when I would find the next source. Spotting a couple of motor-cyclists parked at the side of the road, I begged for a bottles’ worth which they happily gave me. Five minutes later, there was James, waiting to make sure I was okay. Without even thinking about it, I asked for more water to get me to Lillooet. It was getting hot now and I was crushing the water, about 1.5-2 small bottles an hour.
Pulling in to Lillooet at kilometre 150, I joined Juliet, Ray(also racing) and James at a little cafe. I ordered some freshly squeezed juice, ate some of Juliet’s banana bread(yes, carried by James in the Jeep) and watched as Juliet swapped out her knobby-tired wheels for her road wheels, shoes and pedals. The gravel was behind us, just 100kms of pavement remained. Part of me thought that was super lame, having someone bring you a change of wheels and shoes. I was also unrepentantly envious. I wished for faster tires and to drop all the emergency gear I was carrying. But you know, I was still struggling with all the pride I was carrying…
The ten-or-so kilometre climb out of Lillooet really sucked. Or rather, that’s where I felt my worst and was suffering the most. The sun’s heat was baking me alive while the steep switch-backs shattered me into little pieces. On more than one occasion I had to pull over for thirty seconds to regain my composure, to quell the pain coursing throughout my body, to silence the dark thoughts creeping into my melting brain. Then there was James and his Jeep. Without hesitation, he filled my bottles, gave me a Coca-Cola when I asked for it and offered the few calm supportive words of someone who knows what it is to suffer. From here on in, James was driving back and forth between myself, Ray and Juliet ahead to make sure we had whatever we might need. Pride had been dumped for pragmatism…and survival.
Climbing at kilometre 190, the cramping began. I’d felt a tinge mid-medial right thigh a little earlier but thought nothing of it. All of a sudden, it gripped me from mid-thigh, through my knee to mid-calf. For a second or two it was excruciating, I thought I might fall off the bike. So, I down-shifted, upped the cadence, backed-off the power and kept the legs spinning light and easy. This helped me work through the cramping and within 20-25kms it was gone. The rest of me, however, was fading.
Up ahead was James, waiting by the Jeep to offer water and encouragement. “Can I get you anything else? Coke, banana-bread, pineapple?” he asked. “Pineapple? PINEAPPLE?! Oh my god yes please!” It was glorious, I can’t remember anything ever tasting so good and refreshing. It gave me new life.
The low to mid grade climbing went on and on until I finally reached picturesque Duffy Lake. From there, an incredible 15km descent where even loaded and with those knobby tires, I easily reached speeds of 75-80kph/46-50mph. It was glorious. It also meant I was nearly finished, just 15kms of flat, easy pavement back to Pemberton.
After thirteen hours and fifty minutes, it was over, I had completed the Hellracer 250. I may have been well off the eleven hour winning pace but I was done, I had triumphed.
Letting go of pride, accepting help when offered was the smart thing to do, it saved me on Saturday. I may have been able to find water enough along the way, but it would have meant ensuring I kept all four bottles full, constantly thinking about where to find water. However, my brain wasn’t working too well later in the ride, I couldn’t think straight, so having someone there to hand me water without my having to think about it was huge.
Pride is a funny thing. It can motivate us to reach beyond ourselves and achieve greatness. It can also lead us to pain, misery or worse. Today, I am happy I finished the Hellracer 250. Moreover, I am pleased that I abandoned my pride and accepted the help James so casually offered.
I don’t really know what makes a cyclist a great cyclist, but I have to think that part of it is knowing when to acknowledge the need for assistance to achieve our goals. I’m not saying I am a great cyclist, far from it, but what I learned about pride on Saturday will surely help me become a better cyclist as I continue to turn the pedals one at a time.