For anyone thats interested, on Saturday morning I came last.
I didn't need to come last. If I’d really, really wanted to, I know that I could have kept up with the leaders and, if I'd been a bit more conscious of the fact that I was riding in a ‘real’ competition, I could have come 5th.
I could bitch about why I lost... the judge who didn't point out the direction at the last junction before the finish, the parked car that hid the big arrow pointing out the right way to go, the way the girl I'd rode along side (and mistakenly thought was riding for ‘fun’ like I was) who overtook me, and sent me hurtling towards a big pool of mud less than a kilometer before the finish… but it doesn't seem worth it now. It’s over.
A couple of days before the competition, one of the guys in my bike group told me that I wasn't serious about competing, and I guess it's true. If I had been more ‘serious’ about it, I would have paid more attention to the other people around me, I would have tried to stick with the leading group and, once they ‘broke away’ from the main group, gone off on my own (instead of riding alongside, and helping, the girl who ended upcoming fifth...)
I know one thing though. I never, ever want to do a competition like that again. It's not that I can't. If I really wanted to, I know that I could. It's just that I found it really boring... 50km of riding along a relatively flat highway, and playing a kind of cat and mouse game (no one wants to ride in front as they will get tired) is not my idea of fun.
50km of staring at other people's arses (as, when you ride in a group, you have to pay attention to what the person in front of you is doing all the time… Tf they slow down, unless you want crash into them, and bend your front wheel, you have to too) isn't that exciting either. The surrounding scenery (rice fields in the foreground, mountains behind, was beautiful, but, for the first 40-50km all I saw were legs, bums, wheels, big red arrows showing the way and more legs, more bums and more wheels..) If I was following a bunch of fit guys with nice legs, it would probably be OK, but the flabby thighs, half covered by skin tight cycling shorts, of the old men who were straggling behind and riding at the same speed as most of the female riders, are not exactly my idea of eye candy.
On Saturday afternoon, after the race, I was really disappointed and angry with myself. Disappointed because I never really believed it when my bike group said that I was able to compete against these girls, and, that if I hade believed them and taken the race seriously, I could have come 5th, and maybe even 4th. Angry, because I'd had a plan to try and arrive at the dam within 2 and a half hours, but, instead of sticking to it, I slowed down, to ride with, chat to and, in a weird and round about way, ‘help’ the girl who eventually came 5th.
When I tried telling someone in my bike group what happened, they didn't really understand. ‘Why did I think that the girl was like you?’, they asked. Thai girls wouldn't even think of doing something like this for fun. If they weren't serious and good, they wouldn't embarrass themselves by trying to enter.
That bit's not quite true. I met 2 other girls there, one a 53 year old, doing her first 'big' bike ride who was hoping to reach the finish in around 3 hours, and another, a tour guide from Sukhothai who was also wanting to know whether the race was something she'd be able to do or not. But I guess '3' fun riders (if you include me) out of a group of 10 isn't a lot.
By Saturday night I'd calmed down a bit. I went off on my own, to ride on the dirt tracks that would be used in Sunday’s races, to see the dam and to look at the place where I didn’t know that I was supposed to turn left. I also met a couple of people I that recognised from when I rode up Doi Inthanon in February this year, and the other guys from my bike group in Nan.
Sunday was better. Not because I rode better, or ended up with a trophy, but because I met some interesting people.
Around 8.30am, the time of the race, the same 6 'serious' riders from yesterday were all lined up at the starting line. But, this time, the group was much bigger. Some teams had arrived straight from another big bike competition in Chainat, and there were also a few people who only wanted to ride on the ‘single track.’ Almost all had 'proper' gear - good mountain bikes, team shirts and the all important, clip in, mountain bike shoes.
There were also 2 old-ish looking women dressed in orange. I wanted to take their photos but my broken (wet and smashed up) camera was, for once, safely tucked away in my backpack, in my friend's car.
I talked to them for around 10 minutes, and as I chatted, kind of wondered whether and how the 2 of them would manage to complete the course. They were 60 and 61 years old, and had travelled from Kon Kaen Province, at least 500-600km away, maybe more, (Nan is around 400km from Tak) especially for the race.
They loved mountain biking and riding in the forest, and were both determined to either ride, walk with, or drag their bikes around the 12km circuit. 12km doesn't sound that difficult, but one day, I'll upload some pictures of the route. There were several rocky uphills, 4 or 5 very steep, muddy downhills and at least 4 times when you had to ride your bike through small streams.
On Sunday morning it thundered and rained, making the already dangerous, muddy tracks treacherously slippy. I knew that, if I decided to compete it would be more of a 'carry your bike, run up the hill and skid down with it' race as much as a riding one. Out of the 5 guys that travelled from Nan, only 3 of them wanted to ride on the track. I met a couple of other girls who had also intended to ride but, seeing the rain, and guessing the state of the track, changed their mind. I was really, really impressed with the 2 women's determination and bravery.
I saw the 2 of them again as I was around 3km from the finish on the second lap of the race. They were still on their first. Everyone who saw them cheered them on and encouraged them, and they sooooo deserved it. Just talking to them, as I waited alongside them on the start line, had made me feel much better about events of the day before.
There's an English phrase 'it's not about winning, it's the taking part that counts' and, if anyone exemplifies the real 'spirit of competition,' as a westerner would see it, the two of them did.
The evening before, my bike group had been disappointed with me, for thinking in this way, and not taking the race seriously. 'á¤ÃÕè äÁè¨ÃÔ§¨Ñ§á¢è§' they had said. I’d expected them to try to cheer me up, not to make me feel worse. I felt like I’d let my bike group, my school (who’d given me the day off especially to travel to Tak) and all the people in Nan who’d encouraged me down.
But, meeting the two of them made me realise that it's OK to think the way that I do. Who cares if I didn't win anything… At least I did it. To me, being determined, and able to do something is a lot more important than whether I am able to do it better than others or not.
I saw the 2 ladies again, briefly, just after the race had finished. They were milling around drinking water, and talking to some of the other riders. By the time I'd found my bike group and returned with my camera, no one knew where they were. I guess, like most people who didn’t have to wait around to collect trophies, they'd showered, changed and left. I was really disappointed that I didn't get the chance to speak to them again, or take their photo. I really wanted to tell them how much they impressed me, and that, when I am their age, if I am strong and determined enough to be able to walk around the course, let alone cycle around it, I will be a very happy (old) girl.
Just after that I bumped into the girl who beat me on Saturday. Her bike group were loading their bikes onto their pick ups and getting ready to leave. As soon as she'd collected her trophy, they would be off home too.
I recognised the guy that she was with, another person who'd ridden up Doi Inthanon mountain in February. She'd come 4th in her class, and, like me, had her big 4th place plastic tag draped around her neck. She gave me a massive hug, something I wasn’t quite expecting, and said that she was very pleased that I had won something after Saturday.
‘If you hadn’t gone the wrong way’, she said, ‘you would have come fifth.’ I’m not sure whether I really believe that or not – there are so many ‘what if’’ scenarios. I could have gone the right way, only for her to come speeding past a few hundred meters before the finish – anything is possible.
‘This person’, she told her partner, and the guy who is the leader of my bike group, ‘is great. Yesterday, she rode with me, chatted to me, and helped and encouraged me all the time. She is very good. The others ‘made’ her lead the race for the first 40 for so kms.’ (It’s true for the first 40km or so I ‘lead’ the race but, in bike racing, as in long distance running, being in the lead at first means nothing. It usually means that you are the dumb person who tires out the quickest, and, once tired and drained of energy, allows those trailing behind to stream past you…)
I told her the truth, that I thought that she was doing the race for ‘fun’, like me, that I didn’t know that she was a serious rider , and, that if I’d known and believed that I would be able to ‘compete,’ and have a chance of coming 5th, I would have really tried to. She laughed.
From that moment on, any bad feelings I had about Saturday’s race disappeared.
2 days later, I’m achey, bruised and my bum has the red remains of one of the biggest blisters it’s ever seen. On Saturday, I told a couple of my friends that there is no way I will ever go to a competition like that again. Just after my friends in my bike group learnt that I had come 4th in my group, one of them showed me a flyer for a competition in Chiang Mai next month and asked whether I would like to go. It’s another single track mountain bike competition. I know that I would love riding around the track, but I already know the answer, NO WAY!.
When I came back to school today, some of my students asked me where I'd been, and why I didn't come to school on Friday. On Friday afternoon, sitting by the river in Tak and wondering what on erath I was doing there, I’d really missed teaching my kids, and had missed talking to, and being with my colleagues and friends at school.
It's now Monday afternoon. I got back to Nan yesterday night and, it felt so good to be back 'home,' to be back in my own little house and to sleep sleep in my own bed.
After a day of being back at school, I can look back on the weekend as an interesting experience, a 3 day emotional rollercoaster that’s ups and down almost matched the ones on Sunday’s dirt track. It’s something I’m glad I had the chance to experience, but it’s not something that I ever want to repeat.
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