I ticked the box on one of my life goals this past weekend. I competed in a 24 hour mountain bike race as a solo participant. I survived.
My weekend started with a trip out to the race venue on Friday afternoon to set up camp. The rain was falling lightly at this stage and already there was a small amount of water lying around. Rohan had come out to help me and was busily laying out the pegs for my tent and then pulling the poles out for me from the bag. I put him in charge of setting up my bed and he relished the chance to unroll the swag and the sleeping bag. What followed was a very excited 4 year old playing in the tent until I was ready to leave and then a very disappointed 4 year old when he realised we weren't staying there for the night. He recovered when I said we could have McDonalds for dinner. Phew!
The rain fell all night. It was very heavy at times and as I woke in the morning knowing that the course would have got a hiding my race plan was steadily sliding away like the mud and grit that was sure to be present on the course. I headed out to the race venue and my fears were confirmed,. There was water running across the road on the entrance to the camping area and I saw people coming in from practice laps coated in mud. I had ridden at this venue last year in the wet and was painfully aware of how thoroughly awful the course could get with a little rain. My hopes were shattered!
I put my shoes on and grabbbed my helmet to head down to the race briefing. The course was shortened from 16.1km down to 6.5km due to water on the course. One person who came back from checking out the full race course stated that the best swimmer would win this race, not the best riders!
Everyone was lined up at the start with the fast kids at the front and people like me way out the back. It was a funny vibe at the back of the pack. There were a couple of us cracking jokes about how we would feel in a few hours let alone 24 hours and a few new riders looking slightly freaked out at the possibility of doing multiple laps around a wet slippery course. I had an evil chuckle to myself when one guy calmly stated this was his first ever mountain bike race and he had never ridden at night before. Should be good for some entertainment in a few hours, eh? And we were off, more with a whimper than a bang.....
The first lap is always the worst. People are cheering you to go faster and there is no way you should, the traffic is hell and basically everyone is bunched together and you walk more obstacles than you ride. I often wonder if it would be best to wear hiking boots rather than cycling shoes on that first lap. I came around through the transition area and the looks of horror from my mates told me how much mud I had picked up. This was going to be tough on man and machine. I cleaned my bike every second lap just to keep it working. An old fire extinguisher was my saviour as I could clean the bike quickly and then refill it and re pressurise it with my track pump. Gold. Well that was it, lap after lap, until dark.
Riding in the bush at night is one of lifes unexpected pleasures. You focus on just the things you need to and its like putting the world under a microscope. You see every little thing as long as it is in the beam of your lights. The emerald green reflections off the spiders eyes on the ground make it look like you are riding through Aladdins cave! I am always surprised at how many of the little beasts there are on the trails especially on the open fire trails up on the ridge lines. It became very quiet after about 9pm as many riders decided the muck was too hard and had a rest. The piece and serenity were magnificent. My mate Chris came out to offer support at about that time and arrived with a hot coffee and a few words of abuse/encouragement which really bolstered me for the next 3 hours. I managed to pump out laps until 12.30am but the cold and wet conditionds were conspiring against me and I was suffering pretty badly by that stage. I decided to have a rest and get warm for a couple of hours. That sleeping bag was the best thing, ever.
When I woke up I felt pretty awful. I hadn't slept much and I needed to eat badly. To the rescue came Gaz, hot coffee and pancakes in hand. I devoured both the life giving substances with barely a chew and was ready to rock. Clothes went on in a flash, shoes were buckled on and before you could blink I was on the bike and pinging out laps. As I came around on my first lap Marcel arrived to be my morning motivation. In much thesame way as Chris had done the previous night he made sure I ate and got fluids, cleaned the bike down and just generally laughed at me for being such a goose in the first place.
Just a little aside on Marcel and Chris. Both these guys kept saying to me, "We aren't doing enough for you!" I guess sitting for 40 minutes until I come around for a 2 minute stop meant they were feeling relaxed and maybe a bit bored. What they did was all the things I SHOULD do but would have been too tired or unmotivated to do. They took away my excuse to get off the bike and fill a bottle or wash the bike down again, or even stop for too long and get cold which makes it really hard to get going again. That stuff is priceless.
I had to start my last lap before 11:30am. The group of people I was camped with were all geeing me up as I came around at 10:45am on my second last lap. I could get another lap in if I pushed pretty hard. No mean feat after about 18 hours of riding. A friend I ride with came to my rescue. He was about to set off on his last lap after his team had secured the win in the 4 person mixed category. Nick is a top bloke and was happy to trundle around with me at a very leisurely pace cracking jokes and generally taking my mind off the hurt. He got me around to transition and as I passed my camp I threw down an energy gel, dropped off all the bottles and took off for a "hot" lap. I went under 40 minutes, way under. My last lap was 36 minutes according to my timer. Not bad.
So the wash up? I got 23 laps, good enough for 8th place, a shade under 150km in the muck, slop and cold including 6 night laps. I had sore knees, a sore butt and sore wrists. Obviously I was tired as it has taken much longer than I hoped to update this blog. Th real win was still that I raised nearly twice as much money for "Working Wonders" as I had hoped. A big thanks to all those who have donated. Will I do it agian. Oh yes. In fact stay tuned for Octobers hijinx.....