With the amount of rain that was coming down I think we all expected the Ark to come floating over the hill. In all honesty it was probably out there, stuck in the mud, a bit like we were. What had started out as a promising if challenging weekend was rapidly turning in to a “suffer-fest”. Our fast team had been really dispirited by the conditions and one of my fellow tortoises had returned tearful and tired beyond measure. All this and we were only 6 hours in to the 24 of the race.
To be fair the first lap had gone well enough. I had got us off to a solid if unremarkable start. However, now as I prepared for my second stint it started to rain again. I put on fresh kit, trying to find the right combination. The balance between the weather & the energy being expended. I had been expecting to ride through the dusk but the foul weather had knocked our schedule and now I faced the prospect of a completely dark lap. On a borrowed bike. With an old set of lights loaned by another friend. In a bike discipline I last rode over 6 months ago. Oh, and did I mention that this was my first mountain bike race?
I set off past the event marshal, cheerily asking if I could borrow her umbrella. She laughed and I was on my way. Straight down the first wide slope and what had been a grassy track some nine hours ago was a mass of muddy ruts. The first corner, a gentle sweeping left-hander had been transformed in to a quagmire and the back end of the bike slid out instantly. I stayed upright (just) and headed onwards. As the lap unfolded I found the rain had actually made the mud more fluid, the cold had thinned out the field so I had space to ride. The trails were greasy and treacherous but viable. On one descent I got so much speed I was in danger of overrunning the lights! I came to the halfway point and ploughed on past the arena and in to the darkness again. By now I was tired, my glasses misting as I steamed with the exertion. I slithered down the trail passing people steadily. As time went on it all started to blur a bit. I couldn’t remember bits of the course. Had I already passed where I fell last lap? Who knew? “Just keep on ploughing on. The team are relying on you” was the constant mantra in my head. As I rode through the last wooded section I suddenly heard laughter, and I realised it was me, enjoying myself. This only spurred me on and I pedalled with renewed vigour, laughing and whooping with joy as I got out and rode on the ragged edge of my abilities.
As the event unfolded it became apparent that many teams had given up, pulled out and were just waiting for daylight before leaving. Some had even gone after the first lap on the day before. Were we just masochists for keeping going? I like to think not. All of us on our team had an awful time out there but we were held together by the sense of spirit and camaraderie – in some ways the conditions made us bond more closely as a team.
I guess the moral of this story could simply be”Don’t ride with Jon” but there is a lot going for me here
- I was loaned the bike – a real demonstration of trust
- I saw old friends and made new ones
- I realised my skill level was higher than I thought
- I was happy to persevere when others gave up
- I greeted adversity with a smile
All in all, quite a lot of learning for one cold, wet weekend. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m for an early night to catch up on my sleep.