It has now been a month since the now well known stage race, The Pioneer, has been run and won. I thought with the exhaustion and pain of the event now settled, it would be a good time to reflect on what I really experienced and witnessed during one of the most gruelling events I have ever pinned a number on for..
The Pioneer is a unique event, I do not know of any other event that traverses such stunning, remote and exhilarating terrain. The challenges encountered to merely complete the race are also unique in some regards to other races. The tools required to conquer these challenges breach beyond a very large toothed cassette and quadruple sealed bearings. The mental toughness this race commands and grants those who push through with the event is probably I believe the most rewarding part of being a ‘Pioneer’.
I was admittedly rather laissez-faire and smug with my preparation for this event, stating “it won’t be too hard”. When I was 4 days in and walking my bike up a 25% goat track on soft grass looking at a 2000m peak that we had to summit I was definitely humbled in my ability to easily complete this tour.
I can often have quite a ‘potty mouth’, however I think I cursed more swear words during this race than any other point during my racing career. The race is BRUTAL, it is well entruly worthy of the often overused term ‘epic’!
Who is The Pioneer for?
If you desire a 7 day mountain biking holiday shredding berms and smiling through sweet, flowy singletrack – The Pioneer is probably not something you should consider signing up for. However, if you want an experience you will never forget and a feeling of accomplishment/relief only awarded after 7 days of pushing yourself to a physical and mental edge then this is the event that needs to get on your bucket list! The incredibly difficult terrain this race traverses is coupled with the most amazing vistas your mountain bike will ever take you to.
As with many mountain bike stage races the intensity of the struggle required to get through the race often leads to quite a bond among those who are at the race. After 7 days living within earshot of your competitors a unique bond is developed as you all share a similar difficult experience. I remember after The Crocodile Trophy in 2011, all of us who were at that edition of that race now get many a story to regale upon when our paths cross again.
I imagine for anyone who has done The Pioneer, immediate conversation can be strung up whenever our paths cross other ‘Pioneers’. The organisation do a fantastic job of creating a community around the race with chill out zones at the finish line after every stage.
Here, some racers can choose to stay ‘in chamois’ for up to 5 or 6 hours or take a shower and relax with their fellow competitors. The presentations each evening were interactive and highlighted some special stories from within the race and identified some inspiring individuals who were present.
The Pioneer is not something most people will find to be a barrel of fun & games in the midst of the race. In fact, some will likely see depths of pain, frustration and exhaustion they never knew existed. However, the joy of events like this I believe lies in the retrospection rather than the actual experience. The joy of being able to look back upon that race and the stories shared there is something i will always treasure. The thrill of being able to visit the famous Fergburger store in Queenstown and indulge in multiple plates of burgers and fries with no regret and then visit the milkshake store afterward.
This kind of joy is one hard to describe but I know it only comes from putting yourself out of the comfort zone for a period of time and giving your all to something bigger than yourself. The Southern Alps of New Zealand are definitely bigger than most MTB cyclists and are more than worthy of 7 days of physical exhaustion (and maybe a few months of training). To be able to drive back to Christchurch and look at the bohemouth mountain ranges you just pedalled your bicycle over is pretty awe inspiring. It is also inspiring for those at home following the event and seeing all the elaborate photo’s on social media.
I would encourage anyone with a sense of adventure and drive to inspire themselves and those around them by putting themselves through The Pioneer. You will not regret it…. afterwards!
Entries for 2018 are opening soon here