With only 70 places available and about 400 people registering, I thought my chances of being picked were pretty slim, but, three weeks before the big event I got an invite email from Chloe at No Fuss. The cost would be £112 and I had until 8am the next day to get it paid or my place was gone. Needless to say, I coughed up!
The format of the MacAvalanche was to be very similar to the French version: mass start on snow; ride through snow; out of snow onto jaggy rocks; peddaly section; and basically a long, exhilarating descent to the finish - at a significantly lower altitude than the start. Except with one awesome difference - a helicopter to the startline, oh yes!
Arriving for sign-on at the cafe about 8am, everyone seemed really relaxed and excited about the race. Eyeballing the sponsored riders in their expensive gear, I started to get really nervous.
A quick briefing from No Fuss Frazer didn't calm me down either. The instructions were for us to first get our bikes to the summit of Meall a' Bhuiridh (1108m). We would take the Access Chairlift to the Eagles Rest then ride along to the Cliffhanger Chair where we'd have to sit swinging, bikes on our knee, unable to close the 'safety' bar. It was blowing a hoolie up on the hill, so the whole chairlift balancing act seemed scarier than the race itself!
Anyway, in practice it wasn't nearly as death-defying as I'd imagined and was actually great fun!
After surviving the Cliffhanger, it was then a steep push up to the summit, where we left our bikes lined up on the startline.
With no option of a practice run in before the race, we could only walk the course back down. This is where I memorised every rock garden, scary drop and boggy section and picked out some 'sick lines' and 'options'....Aye right! By about a quarter of the way down all I could remember was snow...mud...snow...jaggy rocks...boulders....mud.
It took around an hour to walk the course, so that was the time I was aiming to beat in the race!
Once down, it was back to the cafe to get our flight times and another Frazer briefing where he told us not to mess up our flight times as the helicopter was costing about a million quid a minute!
My flight was one of the last to go up and the ground crew guy made my day by giving me the seat in the front - and I didn't even need to call shotgun! It was about a 1minute ride to the top and a wobbly hover/landing onto rocks and it was so cool.
It was seriously windy at the top, so thankfully I didn't have long to wait until the start. To avoid utter carnage at the start, Spook got all 96 us to line up down the hill away from the startline, so we had an uphill run to get to our bikes. I got a not bad start, taking the inside, steep line, grabbing my bike and running through the first snow patch. I jumped on at the first grassy bit and tried to ride into the next snow section, but it was just a waste of time. Running, sliding and falling was faster and I seemed to pass quite a few riders using this technique!
Out of the snow, I'd completely forgotten all of the holes and drops to avoid and seemed to fall and slide my way down this section too. I felt like all the riders I'd passed earlier were now passing me again!
Before long it was halfway down and the long pedally section. The loose gravel had my back wheel stepping out so much, I was convinced I had a flat. But I didn't. Then it was onto the start of the downhill track, then quickly back off it (- phew!) and onto the Weasel track. This was quite muddy and undulating before we took a left, pointing the bike down through deep grass and heather. It was a battle of nerves to just let the brakes off, get your bum over the back wheel and try to skim over the hidden rocks and ditches - and it was great fun!
But I hadn't finished crashing yet, close to the finish, my front wheel disappeared into a muddy hole and my bike ended up pointing back up the hill. I couldn't get untangled and back on quick enough and was gutted to lose another 2 places to a couple of riders who whizzed past me and onto the finish. Och well.
Prior to the race I'd read that they expected the fastest rider to get down in about 20minutes. Joe Barnes took the win (by a country mile!) with a time of 10minutes 59secs. Hannah Barnes won the senior ladies and came 56th overall.
The weather was spectacular and whole event was very well organised with a really friendly atmosphere.
After the prize-giving, a more relaxed Frazer asked if we thought they should do it again next year. There was a resounding "yeah!" and I can't wait for it!
(Photos: Mark Forrest)