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The Riding

The journey to Laos was my longest travel time to date: Calgary to Seattle, to Seoul, and finally to Vientiane. Miraculously, my bike and my gear were sitting in the Vientiane airport when I arrived. A beer Laos was immediately presented to me when the team picked myself and a few other riders up. It was a great start to the trip. After meeting Rebecca and the group and building our bikes, we were ready to go. 

Laos

We rode anywhere from 50km to 95km for 9 days straight on winding gravel roads connecting tiny villages dispersed among the mountains, and through the jungle on single and double track trails. The roads were dusty and long with many challenging features including incredibly steep climbs and super deep sand. The jungle trails were not like the purposely built single track I've been riding for the last 7 years. Made by motor bike and washed out after the rainy season, they were the toughest technical climbs that I have ever seen (most of the group powered up them like mountain goats. A few of us had no choice but to push our way to the top). I quickly realized that this journey was going to push me way beyond my comfort zone. I was the only “Enduro/Downhill-er” riding with a group of accomplished multi-disciplinary cyclists, elite athletes who among them have completed the Iditarod, Ironmans, and innumerable endurance races. 

Laos

There were a few days in the beginning of the trip that absolutely crushed my confidence. My worst nightmare of being the slowest person in the group quickly became reality. After the high of riding 95 kilometers on one of the first days of riding (the farthest I have ever ridden), I thought the shorter 50 km days to follow would be ‘easy’. I found myself ‘bonking’ on a few occasions. Without having figured out a proper nutrition and hydration system, and without the experience of back to back 80km+ gravel riding, I struggled to keep up with the group. And the clipless pedals? Riding down a jungle trail, through a river, and emerging onto a sandy steep uphill climb (over and over, hour after hour) proved extremely difficult for someone who only started to ride clipless the prior summer. I toppled over at least 4 times, 2 right in front of Rebecca. I was embarrassed. I couldn't appreciate the beautiful scenery we were riding through, or engage fully with any of the local kids we met that day. The other riders were stoked about the technical climbing… I have NEVER felt that way toward a climb. I kept to myself during breaks, willing myself to finish the ride without yet another fall. I was not accustomed to being literally the slowest person in the group. And the most clumsy. “What am I doing here”, “I’m weak”, and “I’m slow” started to transform into, “I’m not that great of a mountain biker”. 

Laos

So what turned it around for me? What helped change these negative thoughts into self-directed goals? It was the MTBLAO 4 team. 12 riders from all over the USA who all came on this trip for reasons deeper than a love of riding bikes.

Everyone offered words of encouragement, and were genuinely impressed that a rider with my background would attempt the trip with comparatively little endurance experience. Aerah slowed her pace and rode by my side; we talked like we had known each other forever. Andi, our amazing mechanic, did the same. Rebecca said, “you're so strong”, and I hung onto those words and started to believe them again. 

Laos

This trip was more than riding bikes everyday through a foreign country. Rebecca organizes it in a way that promotes bonding within the group. Each night following dinner (a mixture of traditional Lao and Thai food with plenty of Beer Lao), we took turns talking about our personal ‘High’ and ‘Low’ of the day. It was this practice that made this group quickly feel like a mountain bike family. My own personal lows centered mainly around doubting my strength and skill, and my ‘worthiness’ to be riding with this talented group. Fortunately, my lows reflected opportunities to learn more mountain bike-related skills, about my own personal resilience, the value of friendship, and the kindness of strangers. I became much more efficient riding clipless, I can power through sand and water, I can push myself to ride up to 95 km, day after day, and my body will not fail. I know the value of a kind word, a friend talking to me to distract from tired legs, and the incredible way a Gel, however disgusting to eat, can fuel your body for that last 10km. I have realized that riding your bike with a group of people can create bonds that I had no idea or expectation that I would form. And, I started to accept that just because you’re the “slowest” or least experienced in a group does not mean that you do not belong, and it certainly does not mean that you are not a great rider. It means you have an opportunity to learn from your experience and from your teammates. I am incredibly proud of myself for having ridden 800km through Laos. 

Laos

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