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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
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!
- Things can only get better if we don’t camp right next to the toilets next year! Enough said.
- 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.
- 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…