It’s very rare that everyone says exactly what they think. In this regular column however we give industry professionals the chance to let off steam, anonymously that is. In this issue we cornered an MTB guide to pick his brain on what’s going on in his mind while herding bikers in the high alpine.
Remember that super friendly guide from your last holiday, ever encouraging, ever helpful? Well, it’s all a façade. Underneath they are bitter, angry and judging.
Well, maybe not you, but certainly someone in the group, and now they’re writing it down for you to wonder who it was.
It can’t have been you, can it....?
How far is it to the top?
It’s not an unreasonable question. We all need a bit of a heads up for what our legs are in for, even Nino Schurter is going to approach a ten minute and a three-hour climb differently.
It’s not that hard to answer accurately either. “We’re headed right up to that cross there at the very top of the highest bit of ground you can see in any direction” is demoralising but correct. As is a precise “another 550m” (this is where occasionally glancing at your mapping app whilst flicking through Instagram helps maintain at least the illusion of professionalism)
Unfortunately, these are not the answers being sought. People want times. And the problem with time is relativity. Some riders are faster pedalling up a hill, others pushing. Are we carrying the bikes straight up or gently gaining height on a smooth track? Has the youth disappearing up the climb in a cloud of dust not realised they have to keep that pace up all the way to said cross there at the very top of the highest bit of ground that can be seen in any direction, or will the double espresso they just had at the refuge wear off in few minutes? You have all this and more to ponder, but an answer is needed now.
You could say it’s an hour, and you’d be right.
That family you were guiding 3 weeks back did it in just under the hour. Granted they’d all been on an XC podium in the last 12 months and left you needing a week off to recover, but it was still a sub one hour climb.
But if you say one hour then in one hours' time you’ll be nowhere near the summit and everyone will get grumpy and slow down more and then even when they get to the top the shine will most definitely have been taken off the day.
So you don’t say an hour.
You could say it’s 3 hours, and you’d be right.
Last year it took 3 hours. When every bike in the group had some random mechanical except Gary’s (Gary is not Gary’s real name) because Gary had been out for exactly one ride in the past year and took one look at the climb and said “I’ll start pushing, wait for me at the top” then set off at a slow plod which nevertheless meant his bike had no chance of breaking and instead it was Gary sat, serenely, sweatily, waiting on the summit several hours later when the rest of the group finally got there.
But if you say 3 hours then either you’ve jinxed it or it’ll be far quicker and the whole group will think you’ve got a condescendingly low opinion of their fitness and everyone will get grumpy and speed up more and then even though they’ve got to the top the shine will most definitely have been taken off the day.
So you don’t say 3 hours.
Instead, you suck air through your teeth like a newly qualified plumber, pause for a bit then say “do you remember that climb we did 3 days ago? About twice as long as that. But with less hike-a-bike. And a longer flat bit to pedal.”
And hope nobody asks any more questions.
Because it’s definitely longer than that.