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Time for a yearly dose of "Pura Vida"

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Alex Grant made a new friend in the aviary

Alex Grant made a new friend in the aviary (Image credit: Alex Grant)
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Along with the traditional rice and beans Alex Grant tried some pretty amazing dishes, like this Caribbean coconut chicken.

Along with the traditional rice and beans Alex Grant tried some pretty amazing dishes, like this Caribbean coconut chicken. (Image credit: Alex Grant)
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Clear views are a rarity on the Turrialba volcano

Clear views are a rarity on the Turrialba volcano (Image credit: Alex Grant)
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Manny and Betty took Alex Grant on a tour of the Waterfall Gardens cloud forest and animal sanctuary

Manny and Betty took Alex Grant on a tour of the Waterfall Gardens cloud forest and animal sanctuary (Image credit: Alex Grant)
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Cleaning up at a random cabin after pre-riding the Carara National Park section of Day 1

Cleaning up at a random cabin after pre-riding the Carara National Park section of Day 1 (Image credit: Alex Grant)
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Hydrating with some fresh coconut water (Pipa fria)

Hydrating with some fresh coconut water (Pipa fria) (Image credit: Alex Grant)

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.

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Alex Grant, 31, is one of America's top endurance mountain bike racers. Sponsored by Cannondale Factory Racing in 2012, Grant juggles racing as a pro with managing an outdoor gear consignment business called Gear Rush, which he co-owns with fellow Utah cyclist and racer Bart Gillepsie. This season, look out for Grant on the podiums at major endurance and stage races. For variety, you may also see him on on the start line of some super Ds, cross countries and short tracks.

In 2011, Grant finished third at the Leadville 100 and eighth at the US cross country national championships while also logging top 10s at the super D and marathon nationals. He finished fifth in the Downieville Classic All Mountain Overall and seventh at La Ruta de los Conquistadores. For the third year in a row, he won the Park City Point 2 Point.

In 2010, Grant made headlines with his second place finish at La Ruta de los Conquistadores, the Breck Epic and the Trans-Sylvania Epic.

When not on his mountain bike, Grant enjoys backcountry skiing, snowboarding and hiking.

Grant is from Richmond, Vermont, and he presently lives in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Follow his 2012 season in this blog on Cyclingnews.