THE CASE FOR BEING LAST
By Matt George
No one seems to mention it boldly, it's mostly discussed in the form of excuses (of which I'm very guilty). "I'm just not feeling it today", "I had a rough night", "I'm just taking my time" or "This is only my third real ride". Many times these excuses are valid but, they're almost always presented as excuses. Maybe it's time to own it. I'm ok with last place. There, I said it.
When we ride with a group there's an unspoken challenge, we're there for the ride, for the friends, the fitness, the fun and a myriad of great reasons but, one can't help but feel that the race is on. Someone is always chasing someone. In my typical riding group there's an ex ultra endurance athlete, men who can kill 35 miles of rugged terrain and climbing in a day without much issue, women who climb like they weigh 20lbs and giant of a man who I used to be able to outride. They're fast, really fast and technically skilled to boot. They're the riders you might read an article about on a website like this, the A-Team if you will.
"One day I'll be rad too..."
We're not talking about them in this article, though I'll assume you understand that they've all been been in the middle or last at some point. There are tons of articles, stories and videos dedicated to their cause. One day, maybe I'll join them. One day I'll be rad too...
The truth is though; I'm not rad, particularly fast, enduro or any of those awesome words or phrases. Like many of my friends, newer riders and experienced alike, I'm pretty solidly in the middle. Hell, some days I can't manage the middle. I've been riding on and off for 20 years, 13 of those at least weekly and many of them, multiple times a week and my end game is that I can literally write my own review in one sentence. Middle, solidly in the middle, that's the best I've got.
You might be starting to think that this is a bit of a depressing diatribe, a pity party of self loathing looking for sympathy but it isn't. Don't feel for me one bit. I've met the vast majority of my greatest friends, many wonderful acquaintances and faced a lot of demons all while hanging in the middle, finally catching up with the A-Team for beers at the car or suffering in last place. I've taken amazing photos that wouldn't exist had I been tearing it up, up front. I've been heckled endlessly for being slow and in turn been able to dish it right back, resulting in innumerable laughs and smiles. I've been lucky enough to be an admin to two wonderful mountain biking Facebook groups that have grown to be true communities, provided endless hours of entertainment, created new friends and taught me a lot about people and mountain biking, especially people.
"You're likely to be less than content with the back or the middle, that's who we are."
No pity party here. I've had the time of my life, truly life changing experiences and a wealth of fun riding in the slow group.
Us mountain bikers aren't defeatist though. You're likely to be less than content with the back or the middle, that's who we are. I'm still striving for the front, to catch up to people who don't even know that we're racing. There's a reason for that, the fast group consists of people who work their butts off. They've sacrificed time, pain and probably more beer and pizza than I can imagine. Some of the best riders and people I know are up front, they help push us, they wait for us at breaks and offer up beers at the end of the ride. It's a position that I'm striving for; I've lost weight due to finally fixing a health issue I've had for years, I'm riding more, cross training with martial arts and it's been paying off. I'm getting faster on climbs and my already solid technical skills are continually improving. Here's the thing, while I may be a middle and sometimes last place rider, I'm actually pretty good, I'm just lucky enough to ride with some amazing people. I know my way around a technical decent, I've got an eye and a feel for what a good bike should be, and while I may not be the fast guy, I can hang. There's nothing to be upset about in the middle, the slow group or last place. The true slow group are on their couches on a beautiful Saturday or Sunday morning.
So, here's to last place; the slow, the tired, the worn out mom or dad, the new riders and all the others in the back. I'm with you, we're with you. As we continue our own paths to the A-Team, we'll be there with you, if you need a friend in the back; we'll ride with you. If you're nervous about a drop, we may even heckle you a bit but, we're right there with you still. All of us have been there and a good bit of us are still there chugging along. Get out and ride, pack all of your issues, doubts and fears into that hydration pack and go, you've got this.
We'll see everyone out on the trail or we'll just meet you at the top of that 1,700ft climb, when we finally get up there!