Monday, May 5, 2014

The Solitary Pleasures Of Unsupported Bikepacking

The sport of Unsupported Bikepacking is building in popularity. There are now a good number of (mostly unofficial) races on almost every continent – I’m yet to hear of any organised races in Antarctica, but it wouldn’t surprise me if someone has something in mind. There have already been three successful Antarctic bikepacking expeditions in the last year.

Bikepacking events challenge riders to navigate a set course, without any outside assistance, that often takes multiple days, weeks or even months.

There’s the Tour Divide route that takes riders from Banff in Canada along the North American Continental Divide to Antelope Wells on the border of Mexico, as well as the World Cycle Race that sees riders tackling a mostly self-determined route around the entire world – obviously a little bit of outside assistance from airlines is required for this one – and many other events that criss-cross other countries, territories or regions.

After riding to 2nd place in the 2013 Tour Divide, Jesse Carlsson provided some insight in to what was required in the video Eat, Sleep, Ride, Repeat. A lot of planning, careful equipment selection, sleep deprivation and a willingness to exercise dietary flexibility were just some of the key elements.

But what about many of the other the day-to-day necessities that weren’t discussed in this video? It can certainly be a lonely time out on course on some of the longer unsupported bikepacking routes, particularly if you are racing hard and aiming to put time in to your fellow competitors. So just how do riders manage to satisfy those basic human desires for sexual fulfilment and release?

Abstinence is one option and was a disciplinary tool often associated with hard-line Eastern Bloc coaches during the cold-war period. Apparently, many athletes were forbidden from engaging in any sexual activity prior to an important event. The idea being to build tension that could be harnessed and used to enhance competitive performance on game day. While most of these theories have been proven incorrect scientifically, we all know how boring life would be if we always listened to Science. The point is that just because there’s no actual measurable benefit to an abstinence approach in sports, you can still kind of see the logic behind it and how the self-discipline might assist when preparing for a single-day event.

Rumour has it that this famous Soviet athlete practiced more than 6 years of abstinence prior to his famous boxing bout with Rocky Balboa.

But what happens when the event stretches out to multiple days, weeks or even months? It would seem unwise – and probably unhealthy – to keep anything bottled up for that length of time.

When you boil it all down, in a race like the Tour Divide, in which even the winner takes over 14 days to complete the course, there are only three viable options for releasing built-up sexual tension:
Option 1: Partner-assisted sexual activity – which may include other competitors, spectators or residents of towns en-route.
Option 2: Self gratification off the bike – which would need to be factored in to down-time reserved for eating, sleeping and resting.
Option 3: Self gratification on the bike – which is something that not many riders have mastered.
The option that you choose will vary depending on how fast or competitive you are aiming to be in the race.

1. Partner-assisted
For a rider like 2013 Tour Divide winner (& Welshman) Mike Hall, who covered the 4400km route in a time of 14 days, 11 hours & 55 minutes, there would have been little time for Option 1. Although the race route passes through many remote towns as it snakes its way south through the United States, stopping time would have, most likely, been restricted to activities including eating, re-stocking food & water and sleeping. While there is nothing in the race rules preventing a rider from indulging in a romantic rendezvous during the race, it is unlikely that any of the top finishers would have been willing to sacrifice the time necessary to engage another person for the purposes of sexual gratification. And even if they were, it is even more unlikely that any potential sexual partner would agree, given that they probably hadn’t showered for up to 4400km in the saddle.

2. Self-gratification (off the bike)
This is probably the most common form of sexual release amongst bikepacking competitors as it does not require any outside assistance, can be undertaken in the rider’s own time during rest periods and is not likely to be affected by offensive odours emanating from the bicycle shorts, socks or jersey. The specific logistic requirements of this method will, once again, be highly dependent on the rider’s race pace or target finish time. Some riders, content to travel a bit slower, might opt to spend as many nights as possible in the comfort of hotel/motel accommodation where available. This obviously provides ample comfort and privacy for any sexual self-gratification that they wish to indulge in.

For those riders at the pointy end of the field, rest periods are most probably occurring in a tent in the wilderness. In his interview, Jesse Carlsson recounted how he generally allowed for around 4.5 hours sleep in his bivy sack, “…which is like an expensive plastic bag.” While privacy won’t be an issue in much of the remote wilderness encountered on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, comfort is likely to be compromised, especially if you are travelling light with a bivy (rather than a tent). You really don’t want to be introducing any excess moisture in to your sleeping shelter before it’s hastily rolled up and packed on to your bike when you commence riding again.

Thankfully though, there are products on the market, designed specifically to combat this problem.

The Portable Masturbation Hut provides the clever bikepacker with a discreet sanctuary for self-gratification, free from the prying gaze of any outdoorsmen (or wildlife) in the immediate vicinity whilst keeping your bivy sack clean and dry. As the manufacturer proudly boasts, “There is no better way to discreetly bring yourself to climax in public than this giant silver box.”

3. Self-gratification (on the bike)
Many road cyclists (and even some mountain bikers) have mastered the art of urinating whilst riding – although generally only males can achieve this without soiling their garments.

On-the-bike bladder relief, while an impressive skill to master, is certainly within the realm of possibility for most competent (male) cyclists. Sexual gratification in the saddle, however, is another thing altogether. And although there are specific cycling accessories designed just for this purpose, most serious bikepackers would be unwilling to bear the additional weight penalty that these would introduce.

This leaves on-the-bike hand-relief as the only really viable option. And while it is most definitely a specialised*, difficult and time-consuming skill to master, if you are able to develop an effective technique, then just imagine how many minutes (and grams) could be saved over the course of a multi-day bikepacking event like Tour Divide. It could end up meaning the difference between winning and losing.

*While a specialised skill, my lawyers have advised me to make it clear that on-the-bike hand relief is, in no way, a Specialized™ skill.

In the 2013 Tour Divide, 2nd place finisher Jesse Carlsson finished in a time of 15 days, 12 hours & 8 minutes, just over 24 hours behind winner Mike Hall. Unfortunately Jesse wasn’t willing to divulge which method of sexual self-gratification he used during the race, but one wonders whether he might have been able to bridge the gap to first place if he’d been able to master the art of “badgering the pink witness with the five knuckle interrogation technique” whilst riding.

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