Muddymoles: Mountain biking (MTB) in the Surrey Hills and Mole ValleyMuddymoles: Mountain biking (MTB) in the Surrey Hills and Mole Valley

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Thoughts from Mayhem 2012

Posted by Matt | July 4, 2012 | 4 comments so far

Pit area at Mountain Mayhem 2012

Any mountain biker who braved Mountain Mayhem 2012 will be quick to tell you about the oceans of mud mingled with broken bikes, broken riders and broken dreams.

I don’t think that we’re any exception really, but now that we’ve all had a week and a half to mull over the race I thought I’d talk about my impressions of the event.

Before the race, most of our focus had been on preparation of one kind or other. Fielding three teams of four meant a good number of us had the incentive to try and ride regularly beforehand to get our mileage up. For me this was interrupted from time to time by real life but even so with 1500+ miles this year under my wheels I felt I was plenty prepared enough.

As survivors of the infamous Dusk til Dawn event of 2010 there wasn’t much that was going to phase us. Still, come race weekend, with weeks of rain behind us, I was looking forward more naively to the event than perhaps I should have. In my mind I anticipated long-legged miles in warm but not hot conditions, threading through singletrack and picking off slower riders with an easy nonchalance while accepting that we’d never challenge the semi-pro guys for victory.

Dreamily, a fine afternoon merged into a still night, with a drawn out dusk in rolling hills, the woodland punctuated by ghost lights of bikes flitting through the trees while back at camp those resting from their efforts tucked in to simple bar-b-q’ed food or leisurely fettled their bikes. Later, a sharp chill would herald the much anticipated dawn laps and the countdown to a lunchtime finish.

But, er, no. That’s not quite how it was.

First of all, this isn’t really mountain biking and in hindsight was never likely to be. The lap at it’s best would have been light on flowing singletrack, substituting long grinding climbs and fast easy descents over arable farmland. There’s some twisty stuff but it’s never long enough to get any flow, even assuming dry conditions in which to exploit it, while later in the lap is a long steep rock-and-gulley infested downhill which seems designed to draw people into trouble – an uneasy combination in my book.

Sure, as a piece of trail the descent wasn’t hard to ride, but when it’s the only chance of fun on a 10 mile lap and everyone is tired and it’s heavily traffic’ed then I felt it was badly out of place really.

The lap as a whole was simply unsatisfying, especially with so much mown grass. With the softening effects of the rain and all that mud, the cut grass served only to wind it’s way round components, binding the mud into an immovable mass and making you earn every yard of progress both up and downhill. Just ask PaulM.

Paul's Niner clogged at Mountain Mayhem 2012

Then there was the mud itself. Sticky in most places it was near impossible in the aptly named Plasticine woods and thoroughly depressing in the second half of the lap. With a 500 yard enforced walk along an off camber stretch of woodland, tractionless downhill sections and countless uphill hike-a-bike efforts, I hated it.

Around the campsite the ever-present mud turned into a slurry churned by thousands of feet. Ankle deep mud sucking at your boots made even a casual stroll to the food tent a frustrating ordeal, while hour-long queues of riders freezing themselves silly waiting for the jet washes after heroic laps further undermined my interest in the point of being there.

I left on Sunday thinking never again, fed up with only managing two laps before I’d decided if I couldn’t ride the course properly due to the conditions then I wouldn’t bother at all. I’m sure I could have gone out at least twice more but in my book it wasn’t really riding, just an unnecessary traipse through uninspiring farmland.

But here’s the thing.

I think there’s a good chance I WILL do the event again, and here’s why:

  1. I had the wrong bike. The course it not particularly technical, so all I really needed was my 29er singlespeed and not my Five, which jammed solid with mud for the first time in the five years I’ve had it. The singlespeed on the other hand has rigid forks – so masses of mud clearance at the front – plus bigger wheels to find traction, especially if fitted with skinny mud tyres. And with one gear then I wouldn’t have had to contend with the dreaded chainsuck.
  2. At the level we ride this really isn’t racing. Of 190 vet teams we finished around 60th (if you count the two laps of Danny’s that didn’t register) which is a fair effort. A bit more application and we’d have been into the 40s which I’d count as respectable. It’s not about times it’s about laps and we left plenty of those on the table which means there’s a better result to come.
  3. The camaraderie amongst the Moles was the best I’ve ever experienced. I’ve been away on mountain bike trips before and I have to say this was the most organised and best natured weekend I’ve had, with everyone getting on well and having a laugh. I really enjoyed everyone’s company despite our little piece of Surrey being over-run by uninvited guests. Next time we post guards and corral our cars into a circle to keep out undesirables.

    Special mention has to go to DaveC for the enduring agony of organising 12 riders into three teams and together with Kev and Al travelling down on the Friday to get us a pitch. And then to go out for a lap at 5:30am – quite unexpected!

  4. Things can only get better if we don’t camp right next to the toilets next year! Enough said.
  5. Amanda shamed us all by riding/walking/scrambling to 10 laps all on her own. Think about that. 100 miles in those conditions, or five times further than we each managed. Wow.
  6. The weather. Surely it can’t get any worse than weeks of rain to soften the ground, then a cold and damp Saturday followed by the torrential downpours of Saturday night and the squally Sunday after that? Utter misery for us must surely mean a dry and dusty weekend next year?!!

So all in all it was a fundamentally boring course made worse by the elements (yes, I know there were amazing feats of athleticism out there and it was the same for everyone, but I just wanted to ride my bike!), I was hampered by the wrong bike and had unrealistic expectations. But I really appreciated everyone’s genuine good humour through the weekend.

I don’t think I’m quite done with 24hr ‘racing’ just yet…

Matt

About the author

Matt is one of the founding Molefathers of the Muddymoles, and is the designer and main administrator of the website.

Having ridden a 2007 Orange Five for many years he's now running a YT Industries Jeffsy 29er with a hardtail waiting to be built up.

An early On-One Inbred still lurks in the back of the stable as a reminder of how things have moved on. You can even find him on road bikes - currently a 2011 Specialized Secteur and a Trek District 1.

If you've ever wondered how we got into mountain biking and how the MuddyMoles started, well wonder no more.

There are 4 comments on ‘Thoughts from Mayhem 2012’

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  1. Andrew akak says:

    This is close to my own view of the thing. The course just made no sense to me as a mountain event.

  2. KevS says:

    Matt.

    I think you have summed up MM pretty accurately.
    I was left feeling the course layout was a bit boring with some steep climbs thrown in to toughen it up.

    However, my main memories of the whole mayhem experience are:

    Travelling down with Dave on the Friday, car fully loaded, 2 tenst in the back, 3 bikes on the rack and P#ssin rain as we headed for Ledbury! 🙁 .. At least it washed some of the mud of Andrew’s Cotic!

    Arrival at Eastnor was a wet one with the squalls slamming down the valley and across the camping areas, not a good scenario and many areas off limits even to a front wheel drive car.
    After a few aborted drives onto possible pitches due to mud and spinning wheels, we opted for a pitch on a downhill slope just off the road and near the way out. A solid decision this proved to be for all when it came to leaving the scene of the crime!

    Dave and I marked out a huge pitch area for all to use with Al’s specially engineered steel rods and got the tent up in the rain and squalls.
    My borrowed tent leaked like a sieve so we had to call Big Al to collect Keith’s spare from Dave’s garage on his way down. Luckily Big Al was in the Leatherhead area and with some help from Cathy picked up the spare tent and headed for Ledbury.

    With that we then waited to see who was next to turnup but after a few hours of boredom decided to go for a walk round the trade areas.
    Bad decision, as when we returned to our cordoned off pitch we found some other campers had invaded it and erected a tent plus parked a couple of VDub camper vans on it!
    Oh well, nothing for it but to take this on the chin and get on with waiting for Big Al to arrive with his big tent (obviously) and help him get that pitched in the rain and squalls!
    Later that evening Paul M and family arrived in their VDub and we got them onto the pitch with some faffage, spinning wheels and a bit of manoeuvering.

    Saturday morning dawned to a dodgy looking sky, muddy tracks, bogs, trade areas under a good 4 inches of muddy slop oozing up through the grass etc etc, not a good omen.

    Gradually the rest of the Moles turned up and joined us on what was now a crowded pitch!

    The mood was good despite the weather and the campsite looking like a typical week at Glastonbury in the English summer!
    Bikes were unloaded, tents pitched, VW’s parked and much banter went on. An air of expectation hung over the site similar to war being declared.

    Saturday 12:00, race time!
    Our designated runners went off at the start and everyone of them did us proud followed by them jumping on their bikes and heading off into the bog fest that was the MM course. Kudos all of them.

    Back at camp the number 2 riders in each time were busy fettling, tweaking, eating and wondering when to go to the hand over area for their lap. As it turned out this was something of a lottery due to the carnage that ensued, mud caked to every bit of bike and rider that could be imagined, made for some varying lap times.
    More Kudos to all the first Moles out as they battled round what were god forsaken conditions.

    The second, third and fourth waves went out, my first lap was at around 6pm and I took over the wrist band from Tony and pedalled, slithered, swam and walked my way round the course, stopping countless times to pull deep grass and mud out of my bike with a tent peg as nothing was working.

    For me it was a course of 2 halves as I found the 1st section across the valley was not too bad, apart from plasticine woods that were a soul destroying joke and I passed a few people that had stopped on the trail and looked to be at the end of their tether!

    Battling round the 2nd section and up to the monument was a slog but I had a sense of achievement and knew I was going to post a respectable lap time given the conditions. The descent back down into the arena was a great feeling as I knew lap 1 was nearly over and it was someone else’s turn to MTFU and get back out there!

    Back at camp it was a scene of carnage and mud caked riders and bikes being recovered from a state of utter destruction. Really, you had to see the state of us all to get a feel for how bad it was out there.

    Paul M wins the prize for muscling round the course the heaviest mud caked bike I have ever tried to lift! Kudos Mate, I dont know how you completed lap 1 with that weight and square wheels!

    I threw my bike in the river to wash the crap off of it and headed for the tent with the others to swap war stories.

    During the night the rain and gales hit us with a vengeance so a collective decision was taken to sleep out the worst of the storm and go out again in the early hours. Let’s not forget that while the Moles slept, Amanda was out there all night in the monsoon doing her 10 laps. Truly awesome!

    At some ungodly hour Big Al returned to our tent looking shell shocked having done lap 2 in truly awful conditions. Tony, being the madman he is, decided to go out again for his 2nd lap in conditions that you would not have put a dog out in. Some 2 hours later he returned to the tent looking like something that had been cast in mud, dragged through a bog, sprayed with a muck spreader and drenched in a lake. Despite this I could see from my sleeping bag he had an insane grin on his face!
    I ignored his bravado and burrowed deeper into my sleeping bag as the storm continued to lash the tent and the poor souls still out there trying to pedal round another lap.

    At 5:00 am on Sunday morning I was rudely awoken by MuddyDave who had got up and was dressed for his 2nd lap. B#gger it! Now I had to get up and go out for my 2nd lap so after gutting down some fruitcake, a couple of gels and a slug of water I headed out into the cold grey dawn. (Dont try this at home kids as this is not the correct way to fuel your body and prepare for a sporting event)

    Lap 2 was almost eerie … the storm had passed, not many people were out riding, there was little wind and all you could hear was the sound of gurgling water running down the hillsides with nowhere for it to go. 🙁

    I headed off from the start line at 05:17 and immediately found that any forward motion, even on the flat bits required a lot of effort and skill just to keep the bike upright. The bogs and puddles were deeper and plasticine woods were just wetter but still zero fun.

    The 10 miles were a bitter slog but strangely enough I started to enjoy it, especially when passing others in distress that were having a much worse morning than me.
    My memory seems to remind me I passed Muddy Dave at the side of the trail with his chain off again. Oh well he was not on my team so I wished him good morning and slithered on! 🙂

    Again lap 2 was a mix of God awful conditions, stopping to pull cack out of my drive train at least 5 times, walk some unrideable dangerous sections and battle round with grim determination.

    Coming back down into the arena at the end of lap 2 was an even more euphoric feeling as I knew it was all over and I could head back to camp for more bike cleaning in the river, a shower and breakfast. Nice!

    Overall experience of MM … a great experience, character building, superb Moles cameraderie, Dunkirk spirit and many war stories to dine out on for the next year.

    Would I do it again … Hell yes!

    • Matt says:

      Wow Kev, that’s quite an essay! Nice to see other riders’ perspective and let’s not forget we get bragging rights for surviving the event. Just don’t talk about how many miles we didn’t do!!

      Glad you enjoyed it, next year could be our year 😉

  3. PaulM says:

    Thanks for the kudos Kev, it really was nothing like a bike ride for me and much worse than D2D 2010!

    I agree, the atmosphere was nothing but supportive and we absolutely made the most of it, leaving with our heads held high – it was a rubbish course made ridiculous by the conditions – but it didn’t beat a single Mole! Respect to all!

    …and good luck to the brave next year!! :/

    I won’t be doing it unless the course changes to trail riding, instead of clay & grass-tracking!!

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