When a Race Is More Than a Race

“More than a race… A stage in your life.”

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And we’re off! An endo and cracked helmet on the prologue reminded me to keep my eyes forward and focus sharp. (Brazil Ride)

That’s the motto of Brasil Ride, a seven-day mountain bike stage race that takes you about up, over, around, and through the mountainous Chapada Diamantia region of Brazil.

I’ll confess, being a bit jaded from constant exposure to industry marketing and having a number of stage races in my pocket, I scanned the tag line on the race’s website and just as quickly brushed it off as a bit of promotional puffery. Please. I thought. It’s just a race.

I was wrong. I mean, yes, of course, it was a race with start lines and finish lines and aid stations and all the usual trappings. But now sitting here three days later, head still swirling with images of burnt orange dirt, sandstone singletrack, wild burros, and ox-drawn carts, I can say with certainty that the race—and the place—are inextricably part of me in a way that no race has ever been.

After 145K of leaving everything out there on Stage 6. (Brazil Ride)
After 145K of leaving everything out there on Stage 6. (Brazil Ride)

When Rebecca Rusch asked me to go nearly a year ago, I said yes without hesitation and without the slightest inkling of what we were in for. It wasn’t until I visited the website many months later and saw that a number of the stages had 9 to 12 hour cut off times that I realized we were in for quite the challenge. But honestly, I still really didn’t have a clue.

Having never been to Brazil, I couldn’t envision there would be 7-mile climbs with stretches so sketchy and steep, you bow down as if praying (and maybe you are praying) over your bars to keep the front wheel down and what little forward momentum you have. I didn’t imagine wild horses would pop out of the brush and join our snaking train of riders along slivers of rocky singletrack. Or that every day would be such a feast for the eyes as we passed through terrain that would switch from cactus farms to leafy forests in a blink of an eye.

Having never raced with Rebecca, I couldn’t envision the challenges that two strong personalities with two very different racing styles would face. Or that it would take three days for us to blend our strengths and limitations together into a well-oiled machine that could stand up to 100 degree heat, rivers of rain, nearly vertical descents, and in the end nearly 42,000 feet of climbing over 370 miles. Or how much we would laugh and grow to appreciate each other along the way.

Done. Elation. (Erika Morais)
Done. Elation. (Erika Morais)

I knew I was coming into this race as prepared as I’ve ever been for anything but yet I couldn’t envision that Rebecca and I would be victorious each stage. I certainly never envisioned how a 145K stage six days into the race would leave me so thoroughly turned inside out physically and emotionally that I would collapse by the finish line and nearly weep with emotion I can’t even name. And I had no idea how purely and wholly elated we would feel at every finish.

But that’s Brasil Ride. It takes you places outside yourself and inside yourself and leaves you better for having been there. Now onto the next stage.

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