Saturday, 30 August 2008

Dust, moss and beer; roadtripping to the SSWC 2008

I recently had the very great fortune of spending a few weeks roadtripping through Northern California and (mostly) Oregon.

The excuse for heading out there was the Singlespeed World Champs, held in Napa. An expensive trip to make, so I thought it best to make the most of it and head to the trails and towns I've been fantasizing about for years.


A full set of photos can be found here:


Make yourself a cup of tea and settle down with a packet of your favourite biscuits...

Day 1

Fly into San Francisco, phone doesn't seem to work which is good in some ways as it means I'm forced into being off the radar for a few weeks. There are many places to use a wifi connection, but they all assume you have your laptop to hand which I don't - they don't really have public use PCs here (none that I find anyway). I head up to Fisherman's Wharf near the Golden Gate Bridge to meet Jenn and catch up as she happens to be in town. I stay at the hostel there having stayed up to a reasonable hour to combat the jetlag.

Day 2
Drive North. I have a morally reprehensible Jeep, but it feels small compared to most things on the road here and does mean I can easily throw the bike in the back (once I pick it up – another very exciting part of this trip is that I'm receiving a new bike too). A long drive to Eureka on the Norcal coast, then inland to Medford in southern Oregon, through beautiful redwood forest and increasing heat - it gets up to 109º in the afternoon and is apparently the hottest place in the US! The road is frequently so twisting it has cambered 'berms' as it curves between the giant trees.


I arrive at Jeff Jones' house early evening after driving down miles of dirt track to get to his beardy-man-shack-in-the-woods (it's actually a beautiful, large house with a workshop built into the garage). I'm picking up my bike here and he's out testing/bedding it in (just a small part of the expansive service that Jeff offers), so I hang out with his wife Sheila and their lovely kids (and gorgeous kittens). Jeff arrives and we ride around his 'grounds' (ie trails from the door) briefly before dark. I sleep in Korben's room (Jeff's son) as he sleeps feral style somewhere in the house.



Day 3
We head out to ride Jeff’s local trails. It's still terrifically hot – ironically I'd headed for Oregon rather than Fruita/Moab to avoid the desert heat. The ride consists of two longish sections of fireroad between two fantastic sections of singletrack. In some ways reminiscent of the more fun trails of the Surrey hills (my usual playground), but less ridden, hotter and with the odd bridge/stunt. Just wonderful stuff; the top trail was last ridden by Jeff over a week ago and no-one since so there’s lots of leaf litter to be scattered by our (very big and fat) tyres. Jeff is clearly loving the descents, he’s a very skilled rider; at one point he goes into a hairpin, turns the wrong way (ie into the ‘elbow’ of the turn) spins 180º on the front wheel, hops onto the back wheel and off down the trail, all quicker than I can do just making the turn normally. Mossy waterfalls, endless singletrack, steep wooden ‘features’ and a gap jump (he rides it, I don’t. obviously) and we’re back at the car via a secret exit from the woods to conceal the trail.

The new bike is a lot of fun too – it has a huge Pugsley style front tyre that makes small rocks and roots disappear. I eventually remember what it reminds me of; those big, bouncy tyres on the front of wheelbarrows!


I drop Jeff back and head further North. I get to the coast via a beautiful river valley, stopping to read on a jetty on a bend in the wide Umpqua river in the afternoon sun before passing the Dean Creek Elk Reserve – well named and the elk are in abundance. The coast is heavy with misty and much cooler than where I've come from – the coastal mountains ensure a very different climate. Cornish-like views (where there are any – the road frequently plunges into fog banks) and winding roads head directly north. I travel until dark aiming to find a nice spot not too far from Portland, but find that there is basically no accommodation free on the coast at all – it's holiday season and everyone is escaping the oppressive heat. The kindly people at a family run Motel find me a room which has no bed, but a big sofa (despite the RV users next door trying to bust the door in during the night to use the bathroom).



Day 4
Stop off at Manzanita for a great breakfast and a wander on the mist-shrouded beach – a really pretty and appealing little beach town. Then a bit further up the coast to the bigger town of Cannon Beach - the mist slowly lifts to reveal giant guano-encrusted rocks and beach-cruiser recumbents.

Then a drive into Portland and the Jupiter Hotel in the gently crumbling East part of town.
Adjoined is the very cool Doug Fir lounge. It’s still damn hot so I take an easy cruise around the city; wonderful Stumptown coffee is consumed, numerous bike shops visited (River City is particularly great), Powell’s; the biggest independent bookshop in the US is intimidating, but very diverting and then to the park beside the river to take stock.

I return for a meal and a beer at Doug Fir’s ($5 shake ­ yum!) and go to a mystery gig at a venue which is 30yds
from my room. The doorman says it’s some kind of bluesy, metally, punky, country stuff which sounds perfect and it’s a fantastic gig. Left Lane Cruiser (punky North Mississippi blues not unlike the Black Keys – playing in London in September), Scott H Birham (filthy one man band Blues) and Bob Log III (nutty punk elvis in a motorbike helmet and silk skinsuit – his speciality is the boobwhisky – I'll let you imagine that one...). Everyone in Portland seems to sport rather beautifully drawn tattoos. Beer, whisky, chat and a late night ensues.

Day 5
More bike shops in the morning and city riding. ­ I meet Tori in Bike Gallery who holds mechanic workshops at Vanilla, so a quick call and I go over to meet Sacha and Scott. They are finishing this year’s Speedvagens ready for paint the next day along with a couple of other spindly-looking, tattooed bike-welders. Sacha’s dog Charlie wanders about and they give me loads of time and insist I stay despite their obvious busy-ness. A big space and a very pleasant work environment. Obviously I leave wanting a bike...


Portland is already behind me mid-afternoon as I head for Hood River; a town one hour east perched on the Columbia river gorge. It's rather lovely here; small, but sporty with two big bike shops and an excellent brewery/pub - the Full Sail brewery. I can strongly recommend the IPA and Wreck the Halls.




























Day 6
The shops are visited for advice on where to ride and new pink gingham socks purchased (who could resist?!) then I head down to the Surveyor’s Ridge trail adjacent to Mt Hood south of the town. The mountain is mostly shrouded in mist and the warm conditions are perfect. A long fireroad out and a singletrack return (13 miles of continuation singletrack). Forested, but occasionally exposed with massive mountain views and long, fast, swoopy sections of­ narrow, occasional rocky tech. Awesome. Also, and I notice this in Bend too, the trail smells wonderful; vanilla-sweet - must be a shrub as I don't think it's me or the chipmunks. I see only one person all day; a forester on the fireroad in his truck and this is supposed to be the busiest local trail!


From the trailhead I travel further south to the Timberline lodge where they filmed the exterior shots of The Shining – it's beautiful, but a bit touristy and the internal shots were done at Pinewood anyway so the feel inside is totally different - the desire to ride a tricycle is diminished. It’s up on the shoulder of Mt Hood though so good views up and thick mist below. From here it's further south to Bend through some stunning gorges and open highways. Find the local micro-brew pub (I have a nose for them now) for beer and nosh.

















Day 7
The usual bike shop visits and trail recommendation requests (Sunnyside is particularly good; Jody sets me on the right track). The shops I go to both suggest the
same trail and it’s quite astoundingly good. 30 miles of dusty singletrack, big waterfalls, redwoods, high prairie, and a whoop-inducing descent; 9 miles of continuous sinewy trail with jumps and flattering fun all as fast as you can pedal. I was very lucky as this part of the trail had only been re-opened days earlier; it's closed until mid-August for elk-calving! Huge deer wander onto the trail, entirely unbothered by me and we stop to check each other out until I just move on, unused to wildlife that actually hangs around. Bend is a really nice town – it’s considered to be the next Boulder; outdoorsy and vibrant.


I head west to McKenzie river via a demanding, winding road that goes over the McKenzie Pass through a vast, volcanic expanse; as far as the eye can see are black ridges in the now misty murk of dusk - ­ it looks like Mordor! Followed by a long, slow meander down through the thick forest. Little more than an hour's drive has taken me from the edge of the desert to verdant, mossy woodland.























Day 8
The McKenzie River trail; ­ the original reason I wanted to come to Oregon, so to say I’ve built it up a bit is an understatement. I read about it in a Bike feature 4 years ago and it’s been on my mind ever since in fact I brought that issue and the dog-eared Oregon road trip feature in it with me. The day is cool with low mist and a light drizzle, not ideal perhaps, but very ‘Pacific NorthWest’ I guess.


The trail is meant to be shuttled as it’s not a loop. ­ 27.5 miles of gradual downhill with the odd up starting just north of Clearlake heading over a mix of earth and volcanic rock for the first 12 miles or so before becoming just soil. Just perfect, loamy, grippy, scurfy soil. My motel is situated on the trail about 22 miles from the start. I don’t want to shuttle it and had planned to spin up the road to the start then ride back down which I start doing, but after 100 meters I go back as having passed the inviting trail entrance on my way to the road is too much ­ I’ll ride up it, then back down.

Breakfast and faff have lead to a late start of 10.30ish. The trail starts as it means to go on; snaking singletrack through verdant, damp redwood forest; ferns, thick moss and GREEN! It has been raining for a day or so and the trail has puddles, but is miraculously firm underneath so I just get spattered with a little soil and a lot of pine-needles ­ just fine.


There are many tributary crossings on narrow bridges (simply felled trees with a hand rail attached mostly). The river itself is a boiling, wide, steel-blue affair which I spot people rafting down on a few occasions. The trail undulates very satisfyingly and the fact that I’m mostly climbing is not a problem as it’s a very subtle gradient most of the time. I meet seven people in total, all on the way out, five mtbers and two walkers. All are friendly and we chat about how ace the trail is despite the rain getting heavier (and heavier). I pass several big waterfalls and the famous blue pool ­ an unnatural looking electric blue pool a long drop from the trail. Then it gets volcanic ­ super grippy despite the rain and very satisfying to ride on ­ technical looking, but the big tyres and grip make it mostly doable. I eventually make the top of the trail, already feeling a bit tired and ride the taxing, volcanic trail east of the lake, before heading back.


On the return it’s the same only better as it’s faster with more downhill and I now have my eye in for how to ride this new bike and this particular trail. I insist on riding straight past the motel to get the final section in which is well worth it ­ more bridges, more riverside trail and more fun. I eventually need to put my Joystick on to see the trail as it’s getting dark and I’m starting to fantasize about food. I arrive back, filthy, dog-tired and hungry despite taking loads of snacks and finish my water a mile from home. It’s 9pm and I’ve been out for over 10 hours! Shower, many snacks and sleep. That was a good day.

















Day 9
I intended to ride at Oakridge today which is apparently similar to Mckenzie River, but I’m too tired to enjoy it. I drive past a huge reservoir below the misty, endless forest and get diverted by road works down a dirt track, overtones of Deliverance are dispelled when I eventually emerge into relative civilisation. Finally I get out of the mist and all of a sudden it’s a gloriously hot day. Reading beside a lake I meet two English girls who are travelling and insist that I go to Crater Lake (where they are also heading) as it’s a must-see. They are not wrong. One of the deepest lakes in North America, it sits in an extinct volcano with an island and has views from the rim to Mt Shasta 100 miles to the south with mountain ridges and prairie all around. Astounding.

More driving to Klamath Fall near the California border beside pretty Lake Klamath. It’s all very beautiful with vast open farmland and distant mountains. I find a decadent, but sterile Holiday Inn, eat too much and crash.

Day 10
Another travel day ­ past Mt Shasta and straight South to Napa for SSWC 2008. Getting hot again and it’s up to the mid nineties by the time I arrive at the Wine Valley Lodge. People! There are lots of friends here: the motel is where many of the British contingent have congregated including fellow VCM member, Marty of the mighty TSPC. We go out for mexican food, cruising on bikes down ‘bike boulevard’ - a road where we ostensibly have priority. Pleasant wooden homes, but a bit up-tight with quite a lot of police presence. We head to a riverside bar to meet more friends then head back to the motel for beers and larks.

















Day 11
Oversleep, but fortunately Andy Gowan wakes me with a bang on the door for the appointed ride. Drive over to Santa Rosa with Andy, Sam, Simon and Hamish to ride the Annadale trails that Sam was shown by Jacqui Phelan. It’s beautifully hot and the trails are dusty; a mix of smooth singletrack, rocky ups and downs, mostly wooded and shady, but occasionally exposed to the sun and a whole lot of fun (despite the fear of mountain lions after seeing warning signs at the trail head – I make sure to freewheel often to make use of a buzzing hub). Bikes become coated orange and we’re all appropriately astonished and pleased to be knocking off clumps of dust from our bikes.


Back to base then off to the race course to register. It’s a two mile pedal over the river up to the base of the hills. Some friends have just pre-ridden some of the course ­ apparently it’s fun, rocky and hot – there’s a thing. Free t-shirt, bottle and nice socks make it all good. The usual singlespeed nut-bags are clearly present and all seems set for tomorrow.


Back to the WVL for more beer, a big BBQ (faithfully tended by our resident Barbie expert, Sam - he is Australian after all). Damo reverses his car up to the pool and plays AC/DC and things get a bit raucous. Probably a bit annoying for the non-cycling motel residents...




























Day 12
Race Day! Race start is 10 to get at least a little racing in before it gets buggerationally hot. The usual requirement to leave the bikes scattered around a field is honoured, but no bike-brand piles are made. We have to run around a horse corral before finding bikes and making our way up a long fireroad for the first mini-lap; a shortened circuit with a big climb and a tricky descent to spread everyone out which works a treat. Talk had been of much up 'n' down, proper rocky technical riding and a generally tough day out. I went into the race a bit fearful of exposing my jey-underbelly when it came to the rocks, but all worked out just fine.

On the first proper lap I get a bit clumsy down a rocky descent and feel the rear rim bang off a rock through the tyre. Moments later it’s clear that I haven’t gotten away with it and a snakebite needs fixing. A stream of friends and strangers pass all offering help and enquiring if I’m OK - this was one of the friendliest races I can remember with uniform courtesy and most people clearly enjoying the course. I don't think I've ever seen so many spectators scattered around a course, with beer being handed up, cheer-leaders slapping arses and giving out kisses as well as all the trickier sections being lined with people offering encouragement and suggesting line options. Drenched in sweat and coated in dust I feel like a fish ready for the fryer by the end of the third proper lap. Much more fun than racing is supposed to be and so much better for it - Curtis Inglis and his cohorts have done a fantastic job – thanks guys!

Our loose gang sit around in the sun drinking free wine (apparently from the vineyard owned by the Clif of Clif Bar fame - the owners father) and soaking up the sun (or hiding in the shade) while prizes are awarded. Shaggy and Phil, among others, were rewarded handsomely for racing in 'tighty whiteys' (big, white, old-man pants) although I suspect we fellow racers were probably more deserving of a prize having had to look at them for most of the day!
Derbying and burritos then it's time to head back. There's a party in town, bowling and the decider for next year's race, but I head up to Debbie, Russell and Zuzu's beautiful house in the hill's north of town for a barbie with more friends. A great day.

(photo courtesy of Steve Makin)

Day 13

Today is wine-tasting day and we meet at a great deli for breakfast before 10 of us head out down the back lanes between the vineyards North of town, visiting five wineries and generally having a very mellow and thoroughly pleasant day. I hired a town bike as Jeff was packing up my bike (totally decadent, but he does a way better job than I and brought down a box specially). More barbeque and a cooling swim and it's finally almost over.



























Day 14
A comparatively early start is required in order to head across to San Francisco for the flight home. Jams on the Bay Bridge give time to look across at the Golden Gate bridge – for once not shrouded in mist and the skyscrapers of downtown.


We land at 7.30am and I leave straight for work to 1000 emails, typing replies with orange dust still under my nails.


So, anyone fancy going back with me next year?!


Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Turbo Touring





There aren’t too many long weekends in the working year, so it’s necessary to make the most of them when they roll around. That’s how i found myself, with my bike,  on the train to Oban last Friday night.  The plan - a turbo tour of the Outer Hebrides and Skye.
Planting myself in the closest seat to my bike, I found myself in the midst of a drunken stag party.  Not to worry, they turned out to sound guys, and to top it off, amongst was a champion accordian player.  The carriage was treated to a string of caleidh songs for the duration of the trip, much to my delight.

On alighting from the train, I befriended 4 old blokes who were also on their way up for a cycle tour.  They’d done this religiously for the last 14 years.  Old steel frames, toe cages, track pants and sand shoes.  A new route every year, but the one i was about to embark on had not been ridden yet by these guys. Maybe next year they said...

Saturday morning, stunning and calm.  Partway through the 5 hour ferry trip to Uist I realised this was not to last.  I stood on deck, breathing deep lungfuls, willing my breakfast to stay down.  The rolling swell was generated by a fierce sou-west wind.  The very same wind that propelled me the 41miles from Lochboisdale to Lochmaddy in less than 2 hours.  Not bad time for a loaded cross bike making several stops for photo ops.  

I made it to the comfort of the hostel just in the nick of time.  The wind was joined by lashing rain and the appeal of the outdoors vanished abruptly.  The empty hostel filled to bulging as unhappy campers trickled in, their tents blown down in the gales outside.

Sunday morning - The ferry didn't leave until 11:50 - time to see a bit more of the island.  Not wet but not sunny and still a howling wind.  Oh well, it wouldn't be scotland if it was sunny and still , right?

An hour and a half to Uig, Skye, and 55miles of riding to get the length of the island.  I wish i had another day there.  Skye has a dramatic and changeable  landscape, and by rushing down the middle of it, i think i left a fair bit of it out.  The trip, only 13miles longer than the previous day, took over 5 hours, riding directly  into the teeth of the vicious wind.  I missed the hostel, rode 3miles past it, hand to turn round and ride back to it, squeaking out the last of my reserve energy (honestly, I was audibly squeaking...).  

I thought I'd have a well deserved dinner of fish&chips, but it was Sunday and nothing was open in the port village of Armadale.  I only had an earl gray tea and the last of my banana loaf to fill the void in my tummy. One of the other hostel guests took pity on me and shared her enormous stirfry with me.  Mmmmmm.  It was like Christmas.

Monday, and the rain was still falling but i only had the short trip to the ferry to make.  30 minutes later I was back on the mainland.  On the train and back in Glasgow 5 hours after.  

A whirlwind trip, but well worth it!

Sunday, 24 August 2008

in praise of the cafe stop

Went out for a pedal with Ros today, it was great fun. The main reason for heading out was to visit a cafe/tearoom mid ride. A great motivator indeed! The headwind on the way out wasn't that fun, but the tailie all the way back to Peebles definately was!

We were aiming to get to the teashop at Broughton but decided to cut things short and aimed instead for Dawyk Botanical Gardens on the Stobo - Broughton road. They've recently built a new visitor centre complete with cafe which you can visit without having to pay the admission fee for the gardens. http://www.rbge.org.uk/the-gardens/dawyck

We had 4 cakes between us (!) and a coffee each too. And the sun was out. My favourite was a carrot cake muffin, but the oaty date slice was very tasty also, though it did crumble quite easily. The cake selection was very good and all homebaked. Not a massive fan of Brodies coffee but it hit the spot. Definately worth a visit if you're on a ride down this neck of the woods.

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

inner xc tt

Steve and Helen at Innerleithen mtb racing have created something special with their xc tt races. Full on, definately, but a lot of fun. Tonights race was even funner - wetter, muddier and darker in the trees on the final descent!

I'm not sure what time I did. Didn't feel very frisky on the climb but rode the final muddy section to the top of the DH courses pretty well (mud surf - tastic!) then managed to stay on the bike down the final descent, which was surprisingly grippy (roots excepted!).
Anja got across from Glasgow and raced on a fully rigid s/s 29 er!! I'm never going to moan about arm pump again! Nice one Anja!

Monday, 11 August 2008

Bananas, brioch and honey

Earlier this year, a mad woman I was on a team with at Strathpuffer suggested that it would be a good idea for me to try a 24hr solo. The fact that she was planning to take part in a stupid big race that runs the length of the USA should have told me to ignore her, but the idea stuck.

6 months later, after a lot of planning and quite a bit of riding, Chris and I packed up the car on Friday to head down to Endura Sleepless in the Saddle. The car was stuffed to the gunnels because, this being my first 24 solo, I had no idea what I'd need when things got tough. I didn't really expect to do the full 24 hours, so I had also packed plenty of warm clothes for hanging about spectating and helping out the other folks who were racing.

After a 5 hour drive with much nervous chatter from me, we arrived at Catton Park to find that the rest of my support crew had found an ideal spot to set up the gazebo right next to the track, beside the Singletrack team's gazebo and directly opposite the entrance to the solo area - perfect! Yes, my support crew - more on them later, but Chris, Shaggy, Mel and later Steve were a god-send!. There was just enough time for us to pitch our teepee, have some food and a beer before I went off to bed to try to get as much sleep as possible before it all started.

The forecast for the weekend wasn't great, but the brilliant sunshine when I woke up on Saturday morning fooled me into a false sense of security. I had heard about SitS in the rain and didn't like the sound of it one bit, so I really wanted it to stay dry.

Porridge and my first cup of proper tea for over a month (another piece of advice from the mad woman was that I should avoid caffeine for at least 4 weeks before hand so that the caffeine really worked when I had it) and I went to sign on. I had a lot of time to kill before the 2pm start, so I went to have a chat with the Endura folks who told me they had broadband and that the forecast wasn't good, not good at all.

So back to the teepee and made sure that the mud tyres were ready...just in case. Then it rained. Heavy, driving, winter like rain for a couple of hours and my heart sank. As Steve and I lined up at the very back of the crowd on the start line, my plan was just to see how it went.

I walked round the "run" quite slowly, taking a few swigs of Steve's beer - I knew there would be a huge traffic jam, so there was no rush and I also had several hours of riding to do, so there was no point wasting energy running.

When I eventually got to the first section of singletrack, my heart sank. Aside from the traffic jam of riders, there was thick, sticky mud which meant that a lot of the first section of trail wasn't really rideable. But I plodded on and managed to get ahead of the worst of the traffic jam. Half way round my first lap, where the track comes back in past the arena, I shouted over to Chris to get the mud wheels ready - I'd be needing them. From the look of horror on Chris's face, I suspect I looked like I needed them...it was already almost an hour since I set off and I was only half way round the course. It didn't really bode well and my target of 10 laps was already starting to feel almost impossible to achieve.

The rest of the first lap didn't really get much better. The little bit of swoopy fast singletrack I remembered from last year had turned into a long slow trudge and the two exciting decents on the second half of the course were like icy toboggan runs. So when I eventually finished my first lap and came back through the transition area, the only response I could think of to the question Chris-D asked about the course was "It's a bit grim".

My support crew immediately got to work cleaning down my bike, changing wheels, getting me some food and water before gently pushing me back out of the gazebo and back onto the bike.

And so it continued. I'm not sure how long my laps were taking, but I suspect it was somewhere in the region of 2 hours. By my third lap, I had all but given up on hitting my target number of laps, so I just decided to try to stick it out for as long as I could. It was at some point during that third lap that one of the guys I was riding (pushing) around with told up to keep our nerves steady, the whistle would blow in a few minutes and we'd have to go over the top. Last year's Somme Woods at Mayhem were nothing compared to this year's Flanders Fields at SitS. I finished that lap with the tune from Dad's Army going round my head.

Every time I came back into the pits my support crew just got right to work cleaning off my bike, giving me cups of tea (I really have no idea how they knew when I was coming in, but the tea was always at just the right temperature!), checking how much water I'd drunk during my lap, making sure I had enough to eat and then putting me back on my bike. They had already decided on a rota to make sure someone was up to sort me out whenever I came in, so there was someone there for me at the end of every lap.

When I came in after a lap at around 3am, I really wanted to stop and have a nap. Chris had gone off duty, but Shaggy, Mel and Steve were still there to sort me out with food, water and motivation (although, I had to humour them when they tried to convince me that the sun was coming up...yes, I did hear Steve protest that it was just light pollution from Birmingham, but Shaggy's shushing proved that these guys really did want me to do this). I also decided that was the time for my first change of kit. I was completely covered in mud, so fresh shorts were fantastic. Shaggy's declaration that it was no longer about fitness but about strength of character gave me something to think about as I plodded round again.

My next lap actually took me to dawn. By that time, the course was very, very quiet, a huge area of the campsite had emptied and there were very few lights on around the campsite. I think a lot of people had decided to take some rest. My feet were aching and covered in blisters because of the amount of pushing I was having to do (Sidi's are ace, but they aren't made for walking) and I really wanted to stop and go home, but once again, my support crew got to work on me when I came in, cleaning off the bike again, feeding me and persuading me to just try one more lap.

By the time it got to 10am, I was trying to figure out a strategy for finishing. I had set my mind to the fact that I cold only do one more lap and that I would have to stop and take a break, otherwise, I'd be finished way before 2. However, my support crew kicked in again and suggested that I go out and do one more now and that they'd figure out where I had to lurk. My brain was a bit addled by that point, so it didn't occur to me that I'd have to do a 4 hour lap if this was to be my last one, that would have been a lot of lurking!

During that lap, the sun came out and it started to warm up, so my spirits lifted. I also started seeing some of the guys I'd been riding around with during the night - Paul West of Endura/Shred and Fig Roll guy (I didn't get your name), you guys were ace too and helped keep me going - it was good to see those guys were still going too. The crowds had come back out too and the cheers and good wishes from the crowds made it much easier to keep going.

The last pit stop was a very quick one. By that time, I wanted to get the final lap out of the way as quickly as I could so that I could get it all over with and take my shoes off. So, a quick refill of water, a gel and a stinger sweetie and I was off again. I rode and pushed that last lap with some of the guys I'd ridden with during the course of the last 24 hours. A sense of relief that we'd made it along with a real sense of camaraderie made it easier to finish the lap despite the aches, pains and tiredness.

As I crossed the finish line, scanning the crowds for a familiar face, I felt a bit overcome with emmotion. I saw Chris D holding out a bottle of Grimbergen for me, which was very, very welcome as a change from electrolyte. I downed almost half the bottle then wobbled my way slowly towards Pat Adams and finally saw Chris waiting for me at the barrier at the bottom. That's it!

A big hug from my support crew finally brought on the tears of relief, joy and disbelief that I'd actually managed to finish (it didn't even take Mel touching my thumb to make me cry this time!). I didn't think I could do it at all, never mind get the third place that I somehow managed to get. If it hadn't been for my top support crew, I would have sneaked off to bed at about 4am and not got back up again, so thank's to you guys!

So it's done. I've worked towards it all year and I managed to do it. No time to sit back quite yet though, the 3Peaks is just over a month away. I will take it easy this week though and I'm looking forward to sitting in the seat at the front of the bus for the elderly and infirm tomorrow on the way to work instead of riding in, but the new cross bike is due next weekend and I suspect the temptation will be too much.

[pictures to follow]

Sunday, 10 August 2008

Scottish DH Champs






Only 4 weeks late and as they say it's better to be late than never!!!










After finishing work on the Friday afternoon I loaded up the van with spares, camping kit, dry tyres, wet tyres and even inbetween tyres, after riding the course the previous weekend down the very steep, very rocky and very muddy Glencoe Ski Resort we had no idea what state the track would be in. We arrived in the early evening to discover blue skies with patchy cloud and not a midge to be seen. A very welcome surprise and hopefully a good start to our champs bid for glory.

With Grimbergen in hand Dougie and I went for an evening track inspection on foot to find the course in much better condition from the weekend before and a lot dryer, as well as a few extra lines opening up due to alot of punters riding the course during the week.
Saturday Practice
We woke to cloudy skies and what looked like rain on the horizon, we started out on our first run on dry tyres and the track was riding really nicely, both Dougie and I hitting all of our lines and feeling good for Sunday but as the day went on the rain held off but with 300 downhill bikes running the course it quickly degraded and became one of the most challenging and technical trails I have ever ridden. Even though it didn't rain the track seem to get wetter and more slippery as the the day went on. We made several tyre changes as the day went on but ended up staying with dry tyres as the sharp points of our Maxxis Wet Screams didn't really bond the with the amount of rocks on the course, giving some very scary moments especially on what seemed to be near vertical sections of the track. By about 4pm we had done 6 or so practice runs. Dougie called it a day and I broke the golden rule of downhilling by going for one last run!!! What started out as possibly my best run of the day ended in disaster about 100 meters from the finishing line. Having got through all of the steep and technical terrain that the track had to offer, I dropped into the last steepish section before the finish. I hit my line but was leaning far too forward on the bars thus resulting in me flying over said bars smashing my helmet on some rocks and tweaking my neck. This was to be the story for me for the rest of the weekend.

Race day. 1st race run.




Dougie goes away first for the VCM team and has good solid run with a time of around 3m.26seconds putting him in the hot seat for about five minutes. Then it's my turn. I get away from the start feeling pretty good, hit all my lines on the fast top section then onto the steep stuff, no problem here either! Just as the track starts to flatten out I find myself over the bars again rolling about on the deck wondering what went wrong. Back on the bike and pedal my guts out to the finish with a time on the wrong side of 4 mins.
Race run 2
Dougie gets away faster again having another fast solid run and quicker than his first run by about 2 seconds. Thats him in the hot seat again, great advertising for the team. The jerseys certainly got plenty of comment over the weekend. A lot of people asking where we got them from as they had seen one on the wall in Bikelove.










My turn!



As with my first run I started out well once again, got through all of the hard stuff just to end up over the bars on one of the switchbacks, very disappointing, ah well that's racing I guess.
Dougie ended up 11th overall in Masters and I was 19th in the same category.
Well done to Dougie for a great ride and a very credible 11th on a very techy track, so techy in fact that nearly 300 riders signed on the Saturday to race and almost 100 of those riders had gone home before there first race run on Sunday.
Mark




















Sunday, 3 August 2008

innerleithen mtt


photo by georgelupton
last tuesday saw the 2nd round in the new summer mtt series at innerleithen. organised by helen findlay and steve deas, the course was xc racing as it should be - a brutal climb and a testing descent. being a classic scottish course, it also featured a hellish muddy bit in the middle that was quicker to push than ride.

the vcm contingent was reduced to three following slight shed key problem for jac. but we still came away with two podium places - a first for (a godfather powered) anja and a third for andy. i was way down the field after blinking a contact lens out at the start of the descent. innerleithen dh trails on 1.25 eyes? really not recommend...

It truly was a great event. Weather was awesome but the course really made it and the hard work put in by the organizers showed. Nice work fella. Will definitely be back next year and not just because I’ll be working there. Hope Sleeples goes as well

I’m not too sure on my lap times but I did a sub 38 minute on my last lap which I’m quite happy about. I’ve put a bit of fuzzy helmet cam footage up on Youtube. Paul you’re in there somewhere.



I’m not going to be here for Sleepless but put me down for Mull. I’m hoping to follow Chris’s lead with a solid placing in the women’s cross race. 

Packing for my Trek indoctrination now. Hope to fit in some miles between courses of  deep fried cheese and I’m travelling with a fat wallet in anticipation of a new XO2 for the cross season. Those nights are drawing in.

Friday, 1 August 2008