A couple of weeks ago I covered what you need to take as essentials for The Pioneer – things you’ll have on hand each day on the bike, either as mandatory equipment, or items that will help get you to the end of the race if things go pear shaped.
But The Pioneer is a week long, or 4 days if you do the 4 Day Traverse. There’s far more time off the bike than on the bike. Almost everyone reading this is used to the standard demands of riding a bike each day. but doing so from a tent, with limited equipment in your race bag, and over some demanding terrain in almost unknown conditions (until they happen) – that’s harder.
Sleeping at The Pioneer
Sleep in a stage race is key, it’s essential for recovery. The Marmot tents provided by the race have plenty of room, are stable in the wind, and best of all are set up for you. But don’t neglect some essentials.
Your sleeping bag should be full zip, or at least to the foot if it’s a mummy bag. Aim for a -5 minimum ‘just in case’ – it gets cold when at Snow Farm. It’s likely you’ll have it draped across you on a warm night, and zip up in the early morning.
The right mat to sleep on helps. Full length wins for comfort, but you still need to fit it in your gear bag. There are some great light-weight inflatable mats around, but I was happy on a Thermarest Ridgerest. It’s foam, full length, and can run double-duty in my bike bag on the way to and from New Zealand. If you’re a dedicated shoulder sleeper, go for something with more padding. Anything involving serious time with a pump is going to get tiresome after a couple of days of inflating, deflating and packing.
Keep others at bay with some ear plugs and and eye mask. You never know who your neighbour will be, besides your team mate, but if others are buzzing with social endorphins and you’re ready for some REM sleep you will regret leaving these at home.
As always, organisation helps even at night. Have your kit out for the next day, including race nutrition and the rest of your pocket contents. You have the profile, you know where you’re going, and you know when to be ready. So why not have everything set so you can enjoy the morning a bit more?
Eating at The Pioneer
The catering at The Pioneer is pretty good. Breakfast has plenty of options, as does dinner. But the extras and in-between takes some thinking.
Coffee. I find it essential. New Zealand does some cracking coffee. And the coffee crew last year were top notch – but you wanted to time it right, as in any stage race. Get into the queue at the wrong time and you miss 20 minutes of eating. This year I’m taking my AeroPress . Maybe a stove too. But I’m happy for the AeroPress double shot while I have my camp breakfast. If you’re environmentally minded, take your own mug, spork, bowl and plate.
Lunch isn’t catered, you do get a snack as you cross the line. Usually a slice, muffin or cake type thing and a piece of fruit. Great to get started with but it won’t fill the hole you have. Thankfully, there are usally about 4-6 food trucks waiting for your custom. The smart money says eat your snack, get into the shower and then go eat. Or… carry $20 with your kit and go straight to the food truck to beat the rush! We have a saying that the race isn’t over until you’re in the shower. But you don’t have to stick to that.
Dinner is a good affair, but if I see anyone I know making a trip to a town I’ll get them to pick up a bottle of red. There’s beer for sale but I think sometimes a whole bottle to share amongst friends is great. There’s tea and coffee too – see above!
Feedzones are quite good at The Pioneer. Like anything else – go in with a plan. Need fluid? Not yet? How far is it to the next feed, and how long do you expect it to take? Top up now if you’re not sure. I can recommend the fruit cake, and the aeroplane lollies. But, if you are wary of where other’s peoples gloves have been – which is fair enough – maybe avoid the lucky dip boxes of lollies and pretzels and fruit cake. Take aim for the half bananas and Em’s bars instead.
Off the bike at The Pioneer
Having the right equipment to be comfortable when off the bike is important. This can be as simple as making sure you have a comfortable t-shirt! But let’s go through right from crossing the finish line. Showering is in a block brought in, they’re generously sized and with warm water (if you need it). Having a good kit bag and some thongs or slides, plus a nice sized towel makes this all a lot better. I’m going to the extent of taking some sort of exfoliating glove and I’ll pick up some shower gel in Christchurch. This will help remove suncream and the rest – and means I don’t need to find a way to house a block of soap all week and not lose it.
Camp is comfortable, so I’ll take clothes to suit. Not many of them, I have no problem appearing in the same t-shirt frequently. Even permanently. Don’t forget boardshorts for a dip in a lake. And definitely don’t forget a warm jacket with a hood, and some comfortable warm pants and proper shoes. Merino socks are great kit to have for both on or off the bike as well. But if it’s not cold I’ll be out of shoes as much as possible. You could take heaps of gear but then it’s more to rifle through each day and more to lug around. Who needs more work in a stage race?
A hat and a clean water bottle also go a long way, as does a book. You’re on holiday. Relax. Talk to people if you want to, or take a nap, or read under a tree.
Either way, keep some time to get ready for tomorrow, check your bike over, including tyre sidewalls, shock and tyre pressure, spokes, chain links and the rest. Don’t wait until the morning. And make sure your little head torch is in your pocket before you go to dinner.
Before the race – but after breakfast
Now is the time to really be getting ready. Things are in pockets, bottles or hydration pack are full, your bike is set and you have a course profile. You have lathered the sun cream on and negotiated the toilet line (with your spare loo roll and hand sanitiser with you). Now is the time to remember the beauty of the rider day bag. Any of those “what if” moments of indecision can be dealt with the bag. A jacket, arm warmers, more food – have it with you, make the call after your warm up, and drop the bag with the crew for collection post race.
What you’ll painstakingly worry about will be up to you, you’ll know what normally plays on your mind. But think about the whole day, how you are feeling, how your team mate is feeling, and how long you will be out there.
So all up, the key things you need to think about are being comfortable to sleep, with some comfortable clothes to get around in – plus understand your caffeine requirements! Staying healthy has a lot to do with good hygiene, and I think The Pioneer really allowed for that in their first year – not surprisingly considering the event crew’s experience. Pack appropriately for what you’ll need, but don’t overpack, as although you don’t move it that far each day – it will feel far enough after each stage.
Got a question on what else to take? Just comment below.