|(L-R) Troy Meyeraan and GT. Self-supported circa 1995|
There was a big kerfuffle involving a bike packing event and a certain individual recently that got me to thinking about "rules", 'self-support', and why those terms don't mean what they used to anymore.
I made the mistake of reading a Facebook comment thread that went into the depths of several folk's opinions, feelings, and ideas on those terms, (and others) which has helped prompt this post today, but this post is not about that specific situation. Just to be perfectly clear.
I've had the special privilege of having done self-supported cycling before, during, and after the start of the"Age of Information", as we once called this. (Maybe we are in the "Age of Disinformation" now, eh?) The times when if one wanted to 'disappear', it was as easy as just walking out the door without telling anyone where you were going. Now? Good luck with that, because you likely are addicted to a smart phone, and 'getting lost' is about 1000 times harder to do these days than it used to be.
In fact, we are so inundated with information and 'contact' that we don't really even understand what being 'disconnected' even means, much less what it feels like. Take anyone the age of 25 years or younger. They have no memories of pre-smart phone days, most likely, and for sure, they cannot imagine a world where one would have to wait for information a day, a week, or two months, like we used to have to wait for news back in the day.
I remember weekly T.V. shows where you had all week to wait until the next episode. Now people 'binge-watch' streaming series in one sitting. Marathon watching season after season of a T.V. series as if they were some sort of content-gobbling, ultra-entertained athlete. And yet, we want more....
|Ryan taking a photo of me. We had to wait to get it developed until after the tour!|
This all goes back a decade or more. Events of recent times are just a further manifestation of what happened in the 00's. I recall some individuals who were trying to hold to a certain standard for ultra-endurance events, but eventually, it was of no use. The tsunami of adopted tech, cultural change, and appetite (addiction?) for more content won the day.
So, who is right? Who is wrong? What is 'better'? Those are great questions to ask, discuss, and ponder. Answers will vary from person to person. I can only say one thing with any certainty- Things are very different now, and you cannot recreate how it was in the past.
Technology is so pervasive that any notion of doing something- say like what John Stamstad did in the late 1990's when he ITT'ed the Great Divide route- is no longer a possibility. What he had to go through, experience, and overcome is different than how one would experience things now. Was it 'harder to do' back then? Well, if technology makes our lives easier? Then yes, it was harder back then. Both mentally and physically. Again- you can discuss that all day long, but having done things myself on either end of the technology divide, I fall on the side of "things are easier now".
|Ted King winning the DK200 in 2016|
And now you have people, entities, municipalities, and more making money off this "content creation" which comes out of gravel racing, or bike-packing events. That changes things even more. When Trans Iowa started in 2005, only the small community of endurance cycling fans even cared about the event, or what had happened. There was no 'money' in doing it from a promotions or athlete side. Now?
You've got to wonder how many athletes would fall away if there were no longer any endorsements, media fame, or salaries involved in participating in gravel events or bike-packing events. Yes- some measure success by monetary and social worthiness metrics. But trust me, that ain't how it got started.
Of course, I would be a hypocrite if I did not recognize that I have personally benefited from those who have made a living out of the gravel and ultra-cycling/bike packing arenas. The cycling industry made us great products, and that doesn't happen without money being made. Events happened which made some amount of money, which perpetuated the gravel scene, and eventually brought a light to my contributions. Sure, I get that.
But if no one had noticed us in 2005, or cared, I would still be happily riding my 2003 Karate Monkey on gravel roads here. It is what I love to do, and being "famous", or having had some modicum of "success" is not my central focus for what I do. In fact, it doesn't really matter in the end. By the way, my life would have been way less complicated and stressful had no one cared or noticed us and our little gravel event. That said, there have been a lot of good things come out of this, and I am happy now. So, there is that as well.
|My Karate Monkey which was my gravel sled here shown in 2006. |
But you have to realize that a lot of what drives the friction we're seeing in gravel events and in bike-packing events, (and in other sports as well) is how changes are being made to accommodate more content for consumption. Film crews, drone shots, cameras mounted to bikes and athletes, announcers, fancy finish-line areas, media access, and in-event reporting via social media has created access heretofore unheard of for cycling events. Even format changes and rule changes are being made to accommodate more content creation to engage more people. Sure- there are predecessors which one can point to. Motos in big stage events on Pro road tours being a good example. But content extraction during events is pervasive now and people want more. Well, that's what we think and what makes money, anyway.
And I'd argue that the original philosophy behind 'self-support' is antithetical to 'fame' and/or making coin off your efforts. But that philosophy is under attack, and is changing, and as I stated before, can we ever really go there again? Our addiction to technology would seem to point to that answer being a hard "No".
Note: I may do another companion post to this speaking about "rules" for events. Stay tuned....