Mountain Biking: Rae relishes sweet smell of success

By Chris Rattue

Kiwi enduro mountain bike rider Rae Morrison has done the hard yards and now sleeps in a proper bed. Photo / Graeme Murray
Kiwi enduro mountain bike rider Rae Morrison has done the hard yards and now sleeps in a proper bed. Photo / Graeme Murray

Follow your dreams, the saying goes. Don't be restricted by your fears. Sounds great, but easier said than done say many of us.

Enter Rae Morrison, who packed her life into a muddy, smelly van and came out the other side smelling of roses. Just.

The 26-year-old Kiwi enduro mountain bike rider - who competes in the Rotorua Crankworx festival next week - turned a crash into a pro career.

It started when the Wellington-raised physiotherapist broke her pelvis and hip in Rotorua a couple of years ago, after flying over the handlebars. Doctors inserted a plate with six screws. A lot of pain and months of recovery later, Morrison decided to screw her head on differently and take the plunge in Europe.

"I decided to reassess my life, decided to give mountain biking a proper go," she says.

"I had all the fears ... I'd never travelled much before, it would cost a huge amount of money, what if I got injured over there, what if I didn't do well?

"But it had been my dream to race overseas, to ride my bike for a living. I knew I'd regret it if I didn't give it a go."

First step, quit her job and sell just about everything she owned. Second step, Morrison and her fiance - a Rotorua bike rider named Mark Dunlop - bought a van just after landing in London. Operation Taking Europe By Storm was on. Except that life in a van is no picnic. Romantic notions stop here.

The enduro event is tough enough, where a series of timed downhill runs are conducted after un-timed uphill rides that can last an hour each. On the toughest of days, riders spend about seven hours on the bike. This becomes a lot tougher when living in a tin can, and eating out of them.

"It was really hard," says Morrison, with an expression that emphasises the point.

"You are trying to perform against the world's best who have all the support, nice accommodation. It is rough in a little van, when it's raining, cold, living off canned food, not sleeping well.

"Van life in Europe is very much a Kiwi thing and we were in a little convoy, with two other vans ... England, Wales, Ireland, Scotland, France, Switzerland, Germany.

"The worst bits? Trying to sleep on a terrible mattress. You are in a little space with muddy bikes and clothes, there's damp, a horrible smell, you just can't get warm or dry.

"Living with each other, 24/7, with no time apart in those conditions was hard, especially when there are no showers, nowhere to relieve yourself. We'd wash in the rivers, there were lots of baby wipes. A couple of times we went into holiday parks for some luxury and a bit of wifi."

In France, they were woken by a break-in. As privateers, they were often up past midnight servicing the bikes. To lower costs, Morrison approached professional teams for hand-me-down tyres, normally $100 a pop when new. The whole venture eventually cost her $20,000, and a lot more. The relationship between Morrison and Dunlop did not survive. The good results took ages to arrive.

After splitting with Dunlop, Morrison headed to friends in Wales, intending to stay a few days. It turned into six weeks, before she set off for the final races of the season, in Spain and Italy. Yes, this give-it-a-go story has a very happy ending.

Two fifth placings led to the dream coming true. French team Lapierre offered her a contract.

There will be no wage, but there's no van life either. Instead, she will get equipment, support, a warm and dry bed, and the prospect of prizemoney in a team led by Nico Vouilloz, a 10-times downhill world champion.

"I knew this was my one shot to make it. I couldn't have lived like that again," she says.

"You have to go through the tough times to appreciate what you've got when it's good. As cheesy as it sounds, it does make you stronger."

Rae Morrison - a one-woman lesson in living the dream.

- NZ Herald

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