COLUMN: Scratch one ride off the bucket list

NANAIMO – Test of Metal mountain bike race worth taking part, but maybe just once.

I struck one item off the bucket list recently when my husband, Mason, and I competed in the Test of Metal.

A 67-kilometre mountain bike race through Squamish subdivisions and backcountry, the course aims to test the mettle of more experienced riders, never mind the recreational riders who have never entered a race before, a category into which I fit.

For me, doing the ride was both a rite of passage and an excuse to get out more on my bike.

It is a tradition amongst some Nanaimo Mountain Bike Club members to do the ride once in their lifetime, simply to say they’ve done it.

I signed up in 2008, when I hadn’t been riding long, thinking the training would improve my skills and eager to challenge myself.

But I made the mistake of pre-riding the course before race day in 2008.

The course starts off with an energy-draining pedal on the road up into the Garibaldi Highlands area of Squamish and does a loop around some logging roads and single track in the Alice Lake area before shooting participants across to the other side of Squamish to ride up a nasty climb on a logging road called Nine Mile Hill.

If you’re able to get through all of that, you have some relief with an easy downhill section called the Ring Creek Rip before you get to the most technical of the ride – the Powerhouse Plunge – a rocky, root-filled downhill trail full of tight switchbacks and obstacles to send you flying off your bike.

And the course doesn’t end there – there is still more hill to ride. It is a punishing course even in the nicest weather; downright miserable in the rain and mud.

After that pre-ride, I dropped out.

So when I signed up in January of this year – a spur-of-the-moment, New Year’s resolution-motivated decision – part of the goal was simply to finish what I started.

My husband graciously decided to do the race with me, even though riding for five hours straight on that particular course was pretty low on his priority list.

The second big reason for doing the Test of Metal was to get out on my bike more and that I did.

It was fantastic – people accepted the excuse that I had to train and my husband and I got to spent hours on Sundays exploring Nanaimo’s backcountry.

I had big plans for the training schedule, but as often happens, life got in the way and we didn’t start clocking some long hours in the saddle until the end of April.

So I wasn’t feeling that confident about my endurance and when I arrived on race day and saw the hundreds of fit-looking riders in their spandex, I panicked.

We started near the back, where people were less worried about winning and less inclined to ride aggressively around me. While the climbs were more than terrible, it seemed like the whole town showed up to cheer riders on, which kept me going.

And after all, it was a beautiful day, the sun was shining and volunteers were waiting to hand you a cup of water just when you needed it most.

It was still a ride to be endured more than enjoyed – the short, fun downhills were not cancelled out by the long grinds up, and three-quarters of the way through, people all around us started cramping up.

On the final section of single track, a mixture of climbs and descents, I rode past countless riders standing off to the sides of the trail with seized muscles, their agonized cries interrupting the peace of the woods.

I maintained a slow and steady speed throughout, as my goal was to finish the race and not cramp up, and crossed the finish line just over four and a half hours after I started.

By then my body was so sore and tired that I just wanted it to be over.

Now that I’ve done it, I don’t think I’ll do it again.