Is there a difference between touring and racing?
What a question. Of course there is.
But the difference is actually a lot smaller than I thought.
Tomorrow I was supposed to start my longest race so far, the Transiberica. 3300km around the Iberian Peninsula, 10 beautiful but demanding checkpoints, a free route and above all, excruciating heat. But here I am, sitting on a campsite somewhere in the french Alps. I didn't feel ready for such a challenge after Covid took me off the bike for several weeks. Fitness is coming back already, still, there's more to a race then just the legs. You need to somehow feel ready for it - and even though you can hardly ever prepare for everything that's going to happen during an ultracycling event, a certain degree of confidence to reach the finish is helpful. I never scratched a race so far, looking back on slow but steady progress over the past two years, four unsupported ultra races- going for number five at this point would most likely mean to break this pattern. Number one rule for myself is:
Don't do anything you could regret. It's the basis of integrity for me and it means more than just finishing a race.
So for now I discover something old in a new way: touring.
I started cycling with touring a few years ago, eleven years to be precise.
Back then just cramming everything onto my pannier rack in wild combos of plastic bags, dry bags, the old panniers of my mom and just whatever was available for little to no money. But this isn't a post about how cycling lost it's pureness due to the industries greed. Bad Industry, duh! (C'mon kids, we all love a nice gravel indoor race kit. And maybe the industry isn't so bad after all, and the pureness was never really a thing, it's just freakin nostalgia and romanticising the good old days when you had only crappy stuff, while you're now very happily spending money on whatever the industry throws at you and would never want to go back to those good old days, which maybe weren't even that good but hey, just sayin'.)
It's about the astonishing fact that I always thought racing was so damn different from touring.
Sure, there's less mileage, at least for me on this specific tour, less pressure on results (we all know the pressure only comes from your own expectations, it's just the one you choose, or is it tho, is it.)
And I miss this very specific zone you get into during ultra distance events, after a few days, when the sleep deprivation kicks in and the shouting at cars and the inner tension builds up to a point where you want to scream at cashiers when they take one minute longer than your precious calculations for the next hyper stage allow, because you're in a fcn race and nothing else matters. This zone doesn't appear during a casual bikepacking tour.
Yeah, I do miss that. The night rides, which currently in touring mode don't make sense, because I want to see the scenery. The flow, the hunger, the pushing through.
But to be honest, I think the reason why I ride races (spoiler alert, it's not for the podium) is my inner tension, the very natural, all day every day tension. In a way, I'm probably perfectly made for ultra cycling, because I tend to choose the discomfort anyways and I have a bit of an impatience going on, an inner drive would be the euphemistic way to say it, an annoying habit of needing to move, to go, to get going, not staying too long in one place and if I have to, let's still move, please.
On the other hand I feel the urge to slow down, to take in every aspect, every detail of a certain road, building, city, moment, person, atmosphere. That's not possible during a race, actually it's not possible AT ALL, but you gotta try, getting as close as you can. That's where touring makes sense to me, maybe more than racing, but there's still the tension. I get nervous if I'm stuck too long in one place, I check my kilometers, the elevation and it's not about the numbers. It's about time, slipping away, like it always does, always the worst enemy, time. Whenever I sit down, whenever I try to let go, there's something that strives for more, more distance, more movement, forward, more life. But it all slips away exactly in that moment where this inner tension takes up too much space, where my impatience ruins everything that could have possibly been. It might actually be true that indeed less is more, and more doesn't always feed what hungers you.
This tension is a factor in whatever I do, may it be touring or racing, may it be a goal I set myself to ride 400km in a certain timeframe, to have less breaks, to enjoy the breaks more, to have more coffee stops or less. Sometimes I think, if I could manage to get this right, to let go to the right degree, it's a delicate thin line, a balancing act, if I could find a way, find my way to do it, then I could be unstoppable. Both touring and racing seem to be a lot about stopping though, so maybe being unstoppable is the wrong goal after all. One asks you to stop very little and the other one asks you to stop in the right amount. Whatever you choose, the cycling is the easiest part.
It's a challenge and sometimes a struggle and I think it might be bigger than me, it seems more like a general disease of our time, the letting go, the Namaste-be-in-the-moment-credo being hyped to a degree that tells me, I'm not the only one who faces difficulties in this regard.
Freedom is actually a pretty exhausting endeavour, inner peace takes more effort than just lying down in the grass like Huckleberry Finn and if it wouldn't be so why is there a whole industry prospering from our inability to let the fuck go. I guess that's one reason why ultra distance events got so popular over the last years - not only because these events are some kind of escapism - but also because the DIY option, touring, is so much more complex than you‘d think. It's actually pretty hard to craft a route yourself, to completely rely on your own structure during the whole day, not meeting any other participants of race xy, not having a time frame, a goal, dotwatchers, the audience, a ranking, no tracker, no nothing, just 24h, two legs and a bike. I start to like it, it's a new way to approach cycling for me, since the touring I did eleven years ago was a lot different from what I do now. Once you slept in a busstop during a race, things will never be the same again.
It's an art, to let go and even more so while not falling apart. And whatever that means, I'll be out there, pedalling.