(In a first, and certainly not a last, I'm extremely happy to introduce a guest writer on Rambleur. In his first post, dear friend Jason Gaikowski writes about his time racing in Mongolia. Despite his humility, Jason is an accomplished endurance cyclist, with a strong background in mountain biking and gravel. I hope you enjoy his words as much as I do. - Nick Legan)
It’s awkward sometimes...
...to meet someone new and trade the tales that record life’s story. A marathon or half-Ironman elicits a wave of enthusiastic congratulation, sparking an exchange of story-in-kind that lays the foundation of common ground. Mongolia isn’t like that.
Mongolia is amazing. Mongolia is unbelievable. And sharing a story of racing a mountain bike 900 kilometers across the Mongolian steppe generates admiring congratulations and a fascinated questioning that plows the ground uncommon. People understand the Ironman; they relate to a marathon. Mongolia…? Mongolia might as well be Mars.
The Mongolia Bike Challenge
The Mongolia Bike Challenge has billed itself as the “World’s Hardest MTB Stage Race.” And yes, it’s hard. A quick stage-by-stage rundown follows:
Stage one kicked things off with the warm embrace of 2,900 meters of climbing over 113 km. That’s 9,500 ft and 70 miles over terrain that can fairly be described as “lumpy.” One rider, a former pro, felt it best to find a place for a bit of a nap before the final climb.
Stage two presented a forgiving 2,240 meters over 117 km, with all the climbing bunched into six very pitchy climbs. Many racers described this as the hardest single day race they’d ever done…
Stage three asked for 2,000 meters over 148 km with one climb early and a soul sucking crawl to a mountain top finish.
Stage four started by descending stage three’s finishing climb before demanding 2,540 meters and 175 km. This was a hard day, but they said the next day was easier.
Stage five covered 50 km of of mostly flat trail with a downhill bias and was wonderful until we climbed 1,500 meters over the next 40 km. The total of 1,730 meters and 170 km was NOT easier than stage four.
Stage six offered the gift of a 47 km time trial with less than 1,000 meters of elevation. A hard XC or Marathon race anywhere else feels like a rest day.
Stage seven finished things off with 1,486 meters over a relaxing 86 km and big climb to the finish.
Stage racing is hard. Mountain bike racing is hard. So yes, mountain bike stage racing for 900 kilometers is hard. Really hard. And totally doable.
I am not that special
Yuki, Ryan and Nicolas; national champions of Japan, Ireland and Italy. The Mongolian National team. John, who’s pro-motorcycle career predated a pro-cycling career. Those guys are special. Me?
I’m a 46 year old guy from the Midwest with a mortgage, a daughter and a bone stock Salsa. I have more airline miles than training miles and power that is generously described as “meh.”
I eat too many cheeseburgers, drink beer too often and don't floss as much as I should. 5’ 10”-ish, size medium everything, and statistically average in nearly every dimension. I am, quite literally, a reflection of everyman. I am not special.
And I conquered the Mongolia Bike Challenge.
The hard part
The hard part isn't the 900 kilometer, the 14,000 meters of climbing or the remote terrain. It's not the time, the travel or expense. The hard part isn't in the doing…
It's the deciding.
A year ago, a video popped up in my feed. It would have been so easy to ignore, but I watched it. And then the real challenge began. Can’ts, shouldn’ts and all the impish reasons why I couldn't go came rushing into my brain like a runaway avalanche. I’d missed the early-registration discount. Registration was limited and probably full. There was so much going on at work. It would be cost too much. I hadn’t been riding enough. The air travel would be miserable. What if I finished last? What if I didn’t finish? What would people think? One justification after another asking: Who was I to dare to go to Mongolia?
This is the my lesson from Mongolia: after daring to decide, not one thing was as hard as I’d imagined. And in sharing the story, I’ve discovered that an awkward uncommon ground lies between those that dare and those who don’t. Too often, we all allow can’t to quietly limit the lives we are capable of living. Let uncertainty be your guide, and make uncomfortable decisions in the pursuit of a life well lived.
Zen-peddler seeking salt, Jason forged his riding roots in the pre-DK200 era with the Flint Hills Death Ride, The Big Loop, and a decade of "Thursday Night Adventures into Darkness." Founding member of the WUDCHUKS of Kansas City, Gaikowski's favorite units of time and distance are "a while" and "a ways." Palmares include a podium position at Dirty Kanza and successfully riding by a dead cow (twice) without noticing.