It's not often that I go in for competitive riding. However, this year I have seen a few that I fancy, a test of fitness perhaps or a chance to try to beat my friends. Whatever the reason I couldn't resist the idea of a whole day of riding riding the hills around the Dunkeld area. So, I signed up alongside 159 other riders of all ages and abilities (some scarily high abilities too!) and proceeded to train.
On the day, the idea of 49k wasn't as daunting. The weather was good. I was not interested in breaking body and bike trying to get a podium place. Instead I was to enjoy a great day with my pals, riding just inside my abilities and sometimes outside of my comfort zone.
Stage 1 included a beautiful ride along landrover tracks with views of Schiehallion and surrounding hills. With sun on my back and surrounded by riders keeping a comfortable pace we enjoyed passing blue waters and lush forest. Everyone was upbeat at the beginning of the timed stage and were keen to 'beep' their timing tag and set off.
When we reached the top of the long (but not the longest) climb to the phone mast, nobody had any idea of the newly built trail that lay ahead of us. As this was a 'blind' course, nobody had ridden the route before and the second timed section had only been finished days before... before the rain. As we launched from the start gate the trail suddenly dropped into a very steep and muddy downhill. The rain had turned this descent into what only could be described as a flume with thick, gloopy mud. There was little control as riders attempted to stay upright and on the pedals in order to handle the roots and drops that we encountered. As I breathed a sigh of relief that I had reached the end of the mud in one piece I encountered off-camber corner after corner made up of loose, wet slate that seemed unpleased to be disturbed and through many a rider, including me, into the gutters of the trail. At this point riders all around were flying left, right and centre using speed and momentum to stay upright with some managing more than others. With the final flags in sight, I rounded the last corner to be presented with a very rooty and step-strewn route to negotiate, trying not to notice the catch net that had been set up to stop riders plummeting off to the right and down a drop that would take them at least 10ft to the road below.
It was this part of the course that tested my nerve and my skills. I was definitely riding outside my comfort zone but pleased to have pushed my limits and proved my ability.
Stage 3 was found at the top of a very, very long climb and I admit that after a valiant effort, I had to push up some of this. Upon passing a couple of walkers they helpfully informed me of the considerable length I still had to travel. To my delight, the route I was following was found sooner and after a cross country pedal across grassy moors I found the beginning of the timed stage. This stage began with a fast and straight descent along a whispy and sometimes elusive grassy path. Dry enough to keep speed, it was great fun trying to read the trail, trying to assess just what obstacle was to come and how to pop over it without too much loss of speed. Perhaps the beginning set me up with a false sense of security as it wasn't long before the trail entered the trees and I found myself on a more technical, woody, muddy and root section. With a moments hesitation before a small drop between two trees I found myself off the bike looking back in wonder. How did I end up in this position? The bike was wedged between two trees, sideways with my left foot stuck in the frame at 90 degrees. Luckily at this angle, my foot and ankle remained intact although I wonder if I would have been so lucky had I come off at a different angle. After some contorting and acrobatics I managed to untangle myself and with only superficial grazes, I carried on. Oh, and minus my cycle computer and sensor which had flown off into the wooded undergrowth. I doubt I'll ever see them again!
By this point the body and legs were feeling un peu fatigué and we were looking forward to the beginning of the final stage, the lower section of Dunkeld's local SDA downhill track. It was perhaps the section that the full-face-helmet-wearing folks with big, bouncy bikes had endured all the climbing just to race on. For us on hardtails, it was purely getting to the bottom alive that was our particular goal. If I could have pulled Joe, my trusty riding buddy, up the hill I would have. Not purely for the comradery but also because I was the reason he was flagging so much. You see, what I learnt that day was that the new BTR frame that he had just built up sits on my car rack at a different angle to my own bike. An angle that means that the front wheel is much closer to the car's exhaust pipe than I had considered. So, Joe's options were to ride with a fifty-pence-sized hole in his non-heatresistant tyre, take my tyre or borrow from a fellow competitor. In the true spirit of the event, he managed to source a tyre... of the significantly heavier, tacky, downhill variety! Sorry Joe :-/
Anyway, we made it to the bottom and back to the car park to receive our free bottle of water, race times (so far) and our well deserved rest.
My times are published here: http://www.sportident.co.uk/results/2013/HighlandPerthshireEnduro/
I'm looking forward to the next races that I'll sign up for. Watch this space for those.
Photos to follow as soon as I pay for the rights to use them!