Words and Photos by Danielle Baker
A DH race weekend is a magical world, the kind of place you find if you stumble through the back of a wardrobe or fall down a rabbit hole. Only the Cheshire cat would be wearing a pajama suit and Alice would be manically adjusting her tire pressure. Men run around in women's clothing, scale buildings naked and drop their pants on course like baboons in heat. The scene is a bit like a redneck uncle; there is a lot of drinking, swearing, and punch lines that make you cringe. Regular life is game-off and conversation alternates from hot girls, to meat pies, to race lines – women, food and going fast.
While it may appear unrefined and you will likely see some things you wish you could un-see, there is more going on inside the collective DH brain that you might expect. Throughout select summer weekends, a dysfunctional and therapy inducing extended family is built. These are people who will give you hell about everything, laugh at your minor misfortunes and embarrass you in front of cute girls, but they will also celebrate your wins and be there with a cold beer when a crash ends your season. These sideshow-esque weekends will also teach you more about life than any classroom will.
DH racing makes it cool to fail. We spend a lot of time in our lives trying to not fail, trying so hard that we often do not try to do anything else. Trying and failing, overcoming adversity and finishing your race run after a crash to a chorus of "GET UP, YOU'RE GOOD, PEDAL, PEDAL, PEDAL", builds a confidence that you will not achieve sitting at home resetting your video game.
The consequences and cost of our sport dictate a requirement for preparation and dedication. The same would go for roller blading if the wheels were made of solid gold and people acted on their impulses to push you into traffic as you swished by. Expense and injury are the price of admission for a sport that offers little glory and only personal bests in return. No matter what age you get into the sport your aspirations are capped. Mountain biking is not a multi-million dollar sport; sponsorship deals and team signings do not make the nightly news. And yet injured racers only find disappointment in not riding, and their drive to return to racing and their passion for the environment has them showing up to cheer on their unbroken teammates.
Crashing happens. It is inevitable. Anyone can look at a racecourse or the path ahead of them in life and pick the trench that a few hundred other racers have already made. Everyone can take the obvious route, the track that everyone is having average successes on, but Robert Frost would have advocated for the road less travelled, and so would an elite racer. Looking at what lays ahead with an original take may end with a face to a tree or feet on the podium. There is a push at our local DH races to tape the courses wider and allow for more creative line selection, allowing racers individuality and rewarding them for being the wolf and not the sheep.
How good would our lives be if we had a chorus of half cut people yelling at us to 'get the fuck up' every time we strike out at life? Racing teaches us to bounce back from the shit end of the deal, during those times when preparation, dedication, and creativity culminate in a flat tire. Disappointment handled with the same grace as celebration, creating motivation for the next race, the next obstacle the next goal, is a skill taught and enforced throughout a race weekend. Whether it is through leadership, peers, or long talks on the drive home, racing will make you better at life.
These weekends are full of camaraderie, bonding and the kind of friendly competition that has people taking it to the go-kart tracks and mini-golf course post race. Downhill racing is an individual sport, yet many racers feel that it is more of a team environment than any other sport they have played. The top racers go head to head and still hang out after the podium to offer congratulations and high-fives. The high consequences of the sport cause racers to bond over their shared adversity. Everyone has been injured, everyone knows what is at stake, and this forces a connection and creates the family vibe. Experienced racers pass their knowledge down, building and better preparing each next generation of racers. And while growing up around it may make for some poor language choices and even worse pick-up skills, understanding the connection between trying, failing, and winning at a young age will make you a more successful human being.
On the outside, downhill racing is the bad boy of mountain biking, the guy your mom warned you about, the rebel without a cause, the now-tattooed-Justin-Beiber. But underneath the flashy helmets and neon goggles, there is real substance in the cult of a race weekend. It will make you a better person. Go ahead drink the PBR.