San José – Costa Rica, 4 am. Even at this early hour I’m wide awake in my bed in the Barcelo hotel. I arrived in Costa Rica last night after travelling for more than 20 hours, a journey that was frustratingly riddled by delays. In two days time I’ll be in the depths of the jungle to pin on a number for an enduro stage race. In moments like these, I think as I untangle myself from the bed sheets, it’s easy to question why one races.
I glance around the gathered group of riders and realize that I don’t know anyone else personally other than Ludo May. It feels like the awkward first day at a new school in a whole new town. At the race briefing in the hotel I can see cliques emerging. Most of the riders are American or Canadian and I guess a lot of them know each other from the race circuit. There aren’t many Europeans lining up on this start line, which probably goes back to the long, expensive and complex journey to get here.
“BY 5 AM I’M WIDE AWAKE AGAIN, THE SUN DOESN’T RISE HERE UNTIL 7 AM…”
Just a day later, I find myself deep in the jungle lining up at the top of the first stage. I think to myself again: why? Not only have I got jet lag, but I’m also at altitude in a foreign country where I have never ridden, and the nearest hospital is at least three hours away. Is this really a good idea? Fortunately there’s little time to muse on my current whereabouts: cinco, cuatro, tres, dos, uno – and we’re off! The first corner comes up pretty fast and I’m definitely not on the best line, but whatever, this is blind racing, right? Three minutes later and the first stage of the Trans CR is in the history books. Done.
Back at the camp there’s an icy cold shower waiting for me. A lot of the riders head straight towards those friendship groups that I’d envisaged and I feel a bit like an outsider. That sense of solitude diminishes a little when they publish the results of the first stage – at least my riding is going great guns. I manage to end the stage in joint second with Ludo. In a bid to stave off the jetlag, I make a futile attempt to stay awake until 10 pm, but by 5 am I’m wide awake again. The sun doesn’t rise here until 7 am and the temperature outside feels every bit its nominal 8˚C.
“UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL WITH THE LOCAL NATURE: INVESTIGATIONS CONFIRM THAT IT’S DUSTY, DRY AND SUPER POWDERY.”
I’m less agitated today now that I’m getting familiar with the terrain here and I head to the second stage suitably motivated. It doesn’t quite go to plan and I get even better acquainted with the local nature. My findings: dry and dusty with fine powdery dust that gets everywhere. For the rest of the day I take it down a gear and ride more carefully so I don’t crash. The early stage costs me a hell of a lot of time though and I end up dropping down to 9th. Admittedly I’m here to have a good time, but you can’t always suppress an inherent competitive spirit.
The next two days look pretty heavy as we have the two longest stages ahead of us, which are predicted to take between 8 and 12 minutes. This sort of length isn’t usually my strength; the tracks where I ride at home in Stuttgart usually max out at around 2 minutes. Costa Rica couldn’t be more different to my home trails: super steep, dusty, and mega tight. But I’m really getting into this idea of blind racing; it’s super exciting and those earlier ‘whys’ have finally faded out.
On the penultimate day it’s a challenge to maneuver my body out of the sleeping bag. That crash must have been bigger than I thought, bruising my chest and ribs pretty solidly. Giving up isn’t an option. Luckily I barely feel the pain while riding the stages as I’m so pumped with adrenaline and finally able to read the terrain properly – I haul myself back up to 7th. The other riders are now opening up as well and there are fewer cliques and more community.
The final day of racing is demanding with two super challenging 12-minute stages.
So now it’s time to just roll towards the finish? Not quite! The last day of racing brings with it two really tough stages of 12 minutes each, the final test for us all. We ride the same stage twice, and my hands are already dead just six minutes through the first run. If only there was a little climb to break it up and give my upper body a bit of a breather. There’s no letting up though; it’s relentless and I wish I’d done more core work during the winter. I’m exhausted as I cross the line and there’s that same ‘why’ question in my head. There’s no time to dwell though, as I’ve got to do it all over again. Another 12 minutes of self-inflicted pain! At least this time I can gauge my effort – my hands don’t give up on me until around the eighth minute! Progress. Shattered, I cross the line to a horde of high fives with Ludo, Kongo, Paul, all the race volunteers and loads of other people. The satisfaction at finishing a race and knowing that you’ve given everything (and more) is seriously priceless. It’s even better when you know you’ve scraped up some more places in the rankings to finish 5th.
There’s a final group meal at the camp that night, with more than just one post-race beer. The atmosphere is really relaxed and the answer to that burning question appears so obvious it’s hard to know why I’d even question it: we do it because of the new friends we meet, the adventures, the results, the experiences and because you’re going to create memories that will stay with you for years. Giving up? No chance.
Words & Photos: Fabian Scholz