Thursday, August 05, 2010

Dear Canada, fear me again

My TransRockies partner, Keith, and I during our top-secret, race strategy building retreat in Glacier National Park

A couple of years ago, before heading north to Whitehorse, Yukon, to ride solo in a 24-hour race, I wrote a letter to the country at large called "Dear Canada, fear me." Since I seem to attend a summer mountain bike race that begins in Canada at least once a summer, I decided to update it.

Dear Canada,

Jill Homer again. I’m sure you remember me. I’m the 2008 solo women’s winner and current women’s record holder of the 24 Hours of Light. What do you mean you haven’t heard of that race? It’s in Whitehorse. You know, the capital of the Yukon. It’s a burgeoning territory that is home to more than 30,000 Canadians. Yes, I realize that’s a population density of 0.11 people per square mile, but I’ll have you know that the 24 Hours of Light is brutal enough for the masses. Competitors sometimes ride wearing nothing more than fairy wings and tighty whiteys when it’s 33 degrees out, through thigh-deep mud, dodging sheets of lightning and sleet, in June. Teams also used to receive a bonus lap if somebody raced the midnight lap completely naked. I think the prudish ways of the south crept up and the Yukoners did away with that practice, but you get the picture. The 24 Hours of Light is the real deal. And among the at least five women who have raced it in the solo category, I am clearly the best.

Why should you care? Because I am returning once again to race in your beautiful — if gapingly empty — country. You may have heard of this one — TransRockies. I’ve committed to pedaling 400 kilometers of punishing, harshly elevated trails across the Canadian Rockies in seven days of structured stages. They used to bill this stage race as “The Toughest Mountain Bike Race in the World.” That was probably before self-supported endurance racers called them out for serving steak and grilled salmon and offering "relaxation expos" where racers enjoy nightly massages as personal mechanics clean their bicycles. Now TransRockies is just billed as “Canada’s Best Mountain Bike Adventure”

Despite the downgrading of overall hardcoreness, TransRockies will be, by far, the largest race I have ever participated in. There are about 500 people signed up for the partner-team race and its less-social, three-day offshoot, TR3. I’m pretty sure I could count all of the participants in every race I’ve ever competed in — foot, ski and bike — and combine them, and still not net 500 people. Plus, TransRockies has something like $30,000 in prizes. There will probably be pros there! That should make me feel all sorts of intimidated; and I’ll be honest — it does. But I am pushing that sentiment aside, because I’m not coming to Canada to be intimidated by people whose motto for the 2010 Winter Olympic Games was “With Glowing Hearts.” (Seriously? That’s just a sharp jab away from “Wimpy Bleeding Hearts.”) That is become I come from a city whose 2002 Winter Olympic mascots were named “Faster! Higher! Stronger!” (USA! USA!) And that is what I shall be!

What do you mean it doesn’t work like that? My TransRockies partner, Keith (who is Canadian, by the way, so don’t accuse me of being a nationalist), already discussed our strategy in detail during our top secret strategy meeting, strategically held on U.S. soil. “All we need to do,” Keith said, “is go faster than everyone else.” It seemed simple enough to me. I can ignore my pedestrian technical skills, my overwhelmingly relaxed style, my penchant for avoiding pain and crashing, and a summer of training that consisted solely of long slow distance, because all I have to do in TransRockies is go faster than everyone else. All 500 of them. Easy.

Actually, I was hoping Keith would haul me with a tow rope, but he just informed me this is no longer legal in TransRockies. What gives, Canada? When did you start demanding personal accountability and independence? That doesn’t sound like a good socialist strategy at all. Oh yeah, that’s right, you’re not really a socialist country even though Glenn Beck says you are. Whatevs.

Anyway, you’re probably thinking by now that I don’t sound like all that scary of a race threat. That’s because I’m not. I mean, I am the women’s record holder of the Tour Divide, which also, it just so happens, to bill itself as “The Toughest Mountain Bike Race in the World.” But all that makes me good at is turning a half pound of Sour Patch Kids and seven packages of Grandma’s Cookies into 150 miles of race nutrition, and at carrying my bicycle on my shoulder through endless miles of mud (come to think of it, this skill may come in handy in TransRockies.) But the point is, I’m just another ’merican who simply wants to come to Canada to have a great mountain bike adventure and a lot of fun. And as long as I accomplish that, I win.

Jill, formerly from Juneau, now comfortably settled just below the crushing, terror-inducing terrain of the Canadian Rockies