Mountain bike racing is a hard, expensive and generally pointless endeavor.
It takes someone who is at least a little bit off to spend all their time, money and energy losing races the vast majority of the population could not care less about.
As is the case with shared, unnecessary misery, racers tend to form uniquely tight bonds. All season, we pre-ride courses together, travel together between events, explore new towns and trails, and develop our own language of inside jokes in the process. We call each other “summer friends,” and once the season ends, we return to our respective homes and jobs and keep a running dialogue via text-message emojis and Instagram comments.
We spend the next few months consuming irresponsible portions of food, letting our bodies and bank accounts recover from a summer of travel. But as is inevitable with most high-energy masochists, our need for adrenaline and excitement grows in near direct proportion to our waistlines. We begin to fiend for the constant aches and shit-talking of race season. And each year, we inevitably find ourselves at “Fat Camp.”
As the saying goes, “Your race results are determined before you even reach the starting line.” Fat Camp is where the inside jokes begin, where we put in long days, stupid amounts of miles and mash out intervals that are not fun by any reasonable definition of the word. We turn normally enjoyable loops into death marches by unnecessarily “riding from town, bro,” and sprint up road climbs that could easily be shuttled.
Training on our own, it would be all too comfortable to take it easy, to turn the volume down a notch or two. However, the inner turmoil caused by being left in the dust far outweighs any pain we can exert on ourselves. Together, we approach our preparation with a strong sense of motivation and a certain lack of common sense. Blowing up our muscles and lungs to the level where our return to the trailhead becomes uncertain isn’t the smartest way to train. But there is no doubt we’ll never work harder.
Each morning, we drag ourselves out of bed with increasing soreness in our legs and decreasing energy levels. The only available salve is shared entertainment. We distract each other from our redlining heart rates by quoting an endless barrage of hip-hop lyrics and Tinder pickup lines, laughing between each breath that feels like it might be our last.
And each day, with each mile, we slowly become reacquainted with our bikes. After a few months away, the rust on our skills is pretty thick. Like social WD-40, there’s no quicker way to find the line between control and bloody, beaten chaos.
Year after year, racing doesn’t get any easier. It doesn’t get any cheaper. But it does remain just as pointless. And that’s where Fat Camp comes in. It’s a week of opposing goals, of doing questionable, miserable things with one shared mission: to remind ourselves how much we love riding bikes.