As I get ready to line up for my fourth La Ruta de los Conquistadores, I can definitely sense something different about this year's race. There are the obvious differences in the change back to a three-day format from four, the shortened last stage, the rafting, and the new start hotel (super swanky Marriott Los Suenos resort). There are also a lot more racers here than I have seen. My first year was 2009, and I think there were about 250-300 racers. This year there are over 500 signed up, the most since the largest years around 2007-2008. Then there is the 20th anniversary vibe in the air.
This year, I took a slightly different approach to the week before the race and came down a little earlier. In the past I had always come down two days before the start and stayed a little after the finish. Pua Mata and I arrived on Friday evening got in two days of course recon with [former La Ruta winner] Manny Prado as a guide. It was great to see the course outside of the race. I got to appreciate the views and take in the surroundings more than I usually do while racing.
Last year after La Ruta, I wrote a blog about the "Pura Vida" Costa Rican attitude. After spending a few more days down here, I am once again reminded what that is all about. When riding through small villages and by small hillside farms I can't help but notice the simplicity of people's lives, and feel their appreciation for life and nature. It makes me realize that most of the stresses of modern society are self-imposed. We add all sorts of things to our lives that yes might make them more convenient, but also so much more complex and stressful. Cell phones, cars, Bluetooth, data plans, cable TV, computers, Internet, Facebook, e-mail, etc. Don't get me wrong, this stuff is all (mostly) great and can be chalked up to progress.
By this definition, I am guilty of complicating my own life: I co-own and manage a business, race mountain bikes professionally, have a cell phone, car, just bought a house, etc. I wouldn't change any of it, but sometimes it’s all a bit overwhelming and I get stressed. It's nice to come to Costa Rica for a yearly dose of "Pura Vida" to remind me that all of these things aren't worth stressing over. It's the simple things in life that should make us happy. What are those? I think it differs for everyone but when I ride by these small villages in the hills of Costa Rica I think: family, food, and nature.
La Ruta is a bike race, and while I am here to get the best result I can, I also look at it as a way to strip away all of the external things in life and test myself against one of the hardest physical challenges out there. It clears my head and crushes my body. Any way I slice it I feel like I come out of the race stronger, both mentally and physically. And I guess that's why I keep coming back.
Thanks for reading.
Stay tuned to Cyclingnews... Alex will be blogging daily after each La Ruta stage.