We explore why ultra-distance bike racing is about cutting through the complexity of life and enjoying the moment, noise-free.
An empty road. A silent night. Progress being made. Experience running pure.
In the noisy world of modern life, it can sometimes be hard finding time for experiences that are pure. Too often our attention is torn – between places, people, screens, and thoughts. In the resulting haze, we can sometimes be left feeling unfulfilled, caused by the fact that at no point are we committed enough to one specific task that we’re able to gain satisfaction from it. There are too many roads demanding our pursuit, and we end up taking none of them.
We believe that bike racing – particularly of the long-distance, self-supported kind – provides us with a rare opportunity to pursue something fully, enjoy the purity of experience that it offers, and free ourselves from the noise and distraction of life beyond the ride.
Sourcing food, finding a place to sleep, staying safe, and making forward progress. That’s life – and it’s liberating.
Moments in time
The intense mental and physical application that is required when negotiating a hair-raising descent or technical stretch of singletrack leaves no space for anything but total concentration in the present moment. Any deviation in thought, and resulting mis-application of body, could result in losing time, crashing – or worse.
“In those moments you are completely free,” Jesse Carlsson, ultra-racer and Apidura Ambassador, said recently when talking about the mental health aspect of riding. “There is no age, there is no pain, no past or future, there is just a moment that you are completely absorbed in, and that is where you might find happiness.”
Extend that idea further, to a moment that may last for hours, days, or even weeks, and you begin to gain an insight into the what life inside the ultra-racing bubble is like. There is no distraction, there is nothing that feels close to being important when compared to the present moment, and making forward progress.
“In the desert I found a freedom unattainable in civilization,” once wrote the explorer Wilfred Thesiger of his travels in Arabia. “It was a life unhampered by possessions, since everything that was not a necessity was an encumbrance.”
And of course, it is not only physical possessions that encumber us – whether out in the physical desert of the Arabian Peninsula, or in the figurative desert of the ultra-racing bubble. Packing light doesn’t strictly relate to a kitlist, and if we leave the excesses of modern life behind, we’re left with a special kind of weightlessness.
It’s a freedom enjoyed in short spells – on fast descents and technical trails, whilst taking in a particularly magnificent view, or in the haste of rolling out a bivi in the forest – but it’s also a freedom that is only truly appreciated over a sustained period. As the days roll by, the distractions fade, and the rider is left suspended in time, oblivious to everything but the space moving around them.
In that respect, it’s a freedom that lasts from the moment the ride starts, until the moment the finish line is crossed. It’s a freedom that represents our chance as bike racers to pare life back to its elements, and live it noise-free.