I can see the flag

An entry level runner on an entry level bike…


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Twentyfour12 – a tale of Two Fat Two Furious

“You’ll be on the team won’t you? Good, that’s that settled then” said JB, and apparently it was. We decided on our team name, the entry was placed and we began our ultimately fruitless search for a 5th member for team Two Fat Two Furious for the 2017 Twentyfour12 – a 24hr ‘he who rides the most laps wins’ race. Our team consisted of me, JB, CH and XP.  Quite a line-up I’m sure you’ll agree (and no, really – there is no need to spot the weakest link… ;-)) MrMegster set to work on the t-shirt design and how exciting it all was. If only we’d known…

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Fast forward to Last Friday, when we loaded the car with all the camping stuff and bikes and set sail for Newnham Park, the setting for Twentyfour12 and our home for the weekend.

We pitched up next to CH and MrCH who had blagged a family motor home and filled it with All The Good Stuff. Spirits were high as JB, CH and I set off on a practice lap. CH set the pace, or at least I think she did- we’d lost sight of her by the end of the first climb as she refused to be overtaken by our rivals, who had just ridden past JB and I.  We knew 3 teams had entered the Female 24hr category and JB and I readjusted our expectations to “2nd place would be really good” at that moment.

The lap itself was confidence giving, nothing too technical, a couple of walks for me, and a couple of parts that would remain unrideable for the whole weekend, but more on that later… JB rode Twentyfour12 last year and although the course was different (and longer) there were familiar bits… “look out for the old man that lurks there in the dark” she told me as we went down the Cottage return – you what now?? “It’s ok, he’s not really there…” “Oh! Well that’s ok then” :-O

As we neared the end of the reccie the rain came. And stayed. The course was already muddy, it wasn’t going to improve – at this point though it didn’t dampen our spirits, even when the motor home awning fell down, nearly taking me out with it. “Well” we laughed, “if that’s the worst that’s going to happen…”

We had decided on our running order, and just before 12pm on Saturday JB positioned herself mid start pack, a brave move, and then the off. 700+ riders swooshed around the grassy start, through the campsite and out on to the course proper. Nothing to do now but wait. So we meandered back to camp, MrJB and MrCH got busy making teas and coffees. MrMegster turned up with all the stuff we forgot, including DryRobes, sandwiches and MrJB’s special chair (don’t ask)… We killed some time and wandered across to see JB go by, estimating about 20 minutes ’till she made it back to transition. She had a blinding lap, handed over to me and I was off!

I set off in the rain, with JB’s advice of “ride it as you see it” rattling round in my head. Stuff was slippery but all very rideable (well except the bits that I was never going to ride). The Cliff Climb came and went and I rode past some riders pushing their bikes – in fact as conditions worsened I began to look forward to the climb for its lack of mud and slippy. Onwards and into the Bluebell Woods, issuing instructions to my bike and self, “look up…” “FFS look up!” (to me), and “roll…” “c’mon, roll you little fucker…” “atta boy” (to my bike) – no foot down, straight through. I’m not scared of roots anymore, although there’s plenty that’s taken their place! :-O The lap was, by later standards, uneventful – I even bagged myself a couple of Stravia PRs for my efforts and I handed over to XP feeling pretty chipper, although it has to be said, soaked to the skin and covered in feckin mud.

Down time was spent washing my bike, drinking coffee and eating everything, with bouts of cheering in XP and, when it was her turn, CH.

The rain was relentless but my little antique tent kept everything dry including the tshirts for at least 6 laps (haha) that I’d packed. Dry socks and wellies made the waiting bearable, and we bantered and joked about the conditions, if we hadn’t I think we’d (I) have cried. Even the walk to the porta-loos was getting tricky!

Soon enough I headed to the soggy transition for my second lap. My dry t-shirt soaked before I’d even racked my bike. JB came in and handed over – something had gone wrong, I could tell, but there was no time to find out what.

This lap was no worse than the first for me, the rain had washed some of the stickier mud away and bits that I’d slipped and slid on were easier riding, although other bits, like the campsite loops on the grass were, well – frankly fucking awful. Every pedal stroke made your back wheel spin or try to overtake you. The only rideable line was along the tape, and it just slid you down into the mire. Still, I finished only a couple of minutes down on my first lap and so was quite happy with that.

On my return to camp, a plan had been hatched. We would ride into the night until the end of JB’s next lap then all get some kip, and I would resume at 3am. A good compromise, giving us all some sleep and each a dark lap. After not much longer, around 10pm I went to bed optimistic for a few hours sleep. Decided against ear-plugs cos I didn’t want to miss the alarm. All cozy and dozy in my tent till something went twang and someone tripped over my guy-rope and gave me a proper fright.  I *may* have shouted something rude…  I later found out that it was XP’s parents arriving to support us, hmm not at all awkward…. 😉

So I slept not a wink, too much noise, adrenaline, caffeine, anticipation about the night lap, and of course, needing a wee. Twice.

At about 2:50am I gave up, popped in my contact lenses, pulled on dry gear and went out into the night. Transition was deserted, bar some light from the solo riders slowly going around. Garmin on and I set off. Got to the first bank, easily rideable on previous laps, now ankle deep in sticky mud – some of which went straight in my eye. I gave it a cursory rub and my contact lens fucked off. Shit. Now the sensible thing would have been to go back for another, but my sleep deprived brain didn’t offer me that option and I carried on, alternating between blurry (2 eyes open) and focused (one eye open ;-)). It was SO muddy now and with impaired vision I couldn’t even ride the easiest of paths, nervous and twitchy, confidence shot to tatters, I even started to do the maths for how long it would take to walk back pushing the bike :-O Blundering over the roots, seeing things that weren’t there and not seeing stuff I needed to, it was the stuff of nightmares! I had Dory from Finding Nemo in my head the whole way “just keep riding, just keep riding”… “get out of my fucking head, fish” I shouted! “You alright love” some bloke asked… “why yes of course, why ever wouldn’t I be?”…

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Made it down the Cottage return thanks to my one good eye and then my feckin chain came off. I unclipped my emergency light – I really needed a light to see to unclip my light, it was that sort of dark… put the chain back on and arrived at the river path. Tight bend into a puddle, wait, that’s no longer a puddle. I’m up to my axles in mud. Slid off into it and heaved my bike out and began to shove it along. Then the mud took my shoe. Have you ever tried to find a fuckin’ shoe, with one seeing eye and no light? Unclipped my emergency light, again, shut the ‘bad’ eye and began scouring for it, eventually spotting it, about 3″ down in the mud. It was such a relief – I didn’t want to get muddy feet on top of everything else ;-)

I eventually finished my lap, having had another chain off moment in the campsite, this time, thankfully, stoping next to a tent who’s owners were made of angels and had a water squirter and a light. The lap had taken me an hour and 50, 40 minutes more than my previous effort. Felt like crying but manned up enough to hand over to CH who was taking XP’s lap as she was struggling with a really painful back. Into my tent to try and get warm and some sleep, unsuccessful again, for now the campsite was coming to life. I was so cold and pissed off I think I was probably mean to everyone. MrJB made me a coffee which thawed me a bit. Then I remembered the Pro-plus and Dextrose. Half an hour later I felt tip-top (relatively, you understand) and although my vocabulary was reduced to “fucking cold” and “fucksake” I was ready to face the world and a bacon sarnie.

When JB went for what was to be her last lap we were met with the news that we’d moved into the lead overnight! WTAF?? The team in 2nd didn’t want to ride again because of the conditions, but stood to loose 2nd if the team in 3rd went again! Suddenly it looked like it could all be over! And we were the winners! Yeah – cos our luck goes that way doesn’t it..?! JB and I agreed we would both ride again if we had to, plus, I really wanted the chance to put my nightlap right.  When 3rd went again, so did 2nd and so, so did we.

JB did another cracking lap under extreme conditions – well the sun had come out you see, and made the mud even stickier and revealed all the things in the puddles that you’d have never ridden over if you’d seen them!

She handed over to me, I had 2 and a half hours to get round, and we would still have time for CH to go again if we needed her to.

My chain came off AGAIN before I even left the campsite.

And again on the Cliff Climb. And again at the top of the Cliff Climb. And again and again and again. Still at least I could see this time, fresh pair of lenses and sunnies! I used all my drink spraying the chain and chain ring to clean it, only for it to be clogged seconds later. I lost count how many times it came off. I opened a hole in my finger and my pedals twatted the back of my legs from all the pushing! When I got to the river I waded in and dunked the bike, hoping that I could wash away my sorrow… I mean the mud…

I eventually got back, with 20 minutes to spare, JB was waiting at the finish: “we’ve done it!” We’d won. I got off my bike and abandoned it. Just relief, no elation or happiness just pure relief.

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We waited until the end, packed our tents and hosed off the bikes. MrJB, with not much effort, was easily able to diagnose what was with my chain, the mud and grit had eaten my front chain ring. It’s razor sharp in places and the pointy bits have all gone. I suspect that’s the tip of the iceberg too, and there’s going to be a maintenance bill when I am brave enough to get the bike outta the shed… I’ll need a hearty breakfast before that though.

Never ever again.

So, next year, there’s talk of entering as pairs, although someone’s just asked if she can be our 5th team member…

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When it all comes together

MrMegster announced mid-week that he and TheBoy were going away for the weekend to help SiL move into her new place, however, JB and I were paid up for the Scott MTB marathon on Sunday and so I couldn’t go.

So, suddenly I found myself with a ‘free’ Saturday and in need of an accomplice. Luckily JB and MrJB seemed willing and we settled on a local(ish) MTB route called The Herepath. JB and MrJB have ridden it before 3 or 4 times before but it was to be my maiden voyage and so I wasn’t sure what to expect. MrJB had also invited a couple of chums along, making me the most inexperienced (you could say entry-level :-O) MTBer going and slightly apprehensive about holding the lot of them up…

Anyhoo, MrJB and JB picked me up and we met the chums at the arranged spot and off we went.  Straight down a gravel track, wide and swoopy, this was fine – nothing technical and I have new brake pads so all was well! The boys swooshed past but I’d have expected nowt less, and I prefer to ride with no one behind me.

The trail is 13 miles of a mix of wide fire tracks, fields, and woodland single tracks with a small amount of roads joining it all together. For the first 7 or so miles the bits that weren’t flat, were downhill. Nothing tricky, couple of rooty bits, a rocky step or two but all rollable and the only time we had a foot down was to open the gates (and take photies of our lovely bikes leaning on them)!

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The second half, well, it pretty much mirrored the first: what goes down and all that :-O. From mile 8 to 13 we climbed 1000 feet, with bits of it, according to Stravia clocking 17% (I think she’s lying – bits of that climb felt more like 27%!). The steepest bits seemed to come at the end and on tired legs there were some pretty bad words… but no walking 😇

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The boys did some bike swapping and with an e-bike in the mix one of MrJBs chums won the lucky dip as the rest of us did the hard miles! There’s a lot to be said for them there e-bikes… Still, I had a rucksack full of sweeties which hit the spot, and we refueled at the end with standard after MTB fare of cheese topped and filled rolls and mint tea ;-) A great ride round a well signposted and maintained route, sunshine the whole way, in the best of company. NOT however, ideal preparation for Sunday’s Mountain Bike Marathon! Ho-hum.

Sunday’s excitement began with an early start – JB picked me up at 7am and we headed to Minehead for a MTB event organised by Scott MTBs – they deserve a name check here because it was a fantastic event from start to finish. The entry fee was pretty steep at £28 but JB and I are suckers for the promise of a t-shirt and goodie bag!

Unusually *cough for us, we were early. We registered and got our personalised (totally love them) numbers and them it was time for a cuppa. I declined a coffee having experienced the porta-loos, I didn’t want to take the risk of having to go again… “I put lots of sugar in your coffee” said JB – “I hope that’s ok? Me: “but… but…” After we re-aligned out sarcasm filters and drank our tea and coffee and went to the *holds nose, loos again it was time for the off.

700 riders filtered through the funnel, all doing one of the 3 distances on offer. We’d opted for the short one – we were looking for a confidence boosting enjoyable ride and this looked the best option. We joined the steam of MTBers lining the seafront at Minehead, briefly pondered switching to plan B and having a day at Butlins… ha, yeah right…

The road ran out and 700 MTBers filed onto a single track climb: the bottleneck was exactly as you are picturing it. The climb went up the side of a mountain, no really, it did. Mile 1 & 2 were lovely pan flat seafront cruising, mile 3 was a single track zig-zagging up the *mountain* to the top of Exmoor. We gained around 500 feet in mile 3 and the same again in mile 4.  JB said when we got out of the trees and atop the moor we’d stop for photies, and so we did. Seems like lots of folk were keen for a breather – we were inundated with offers from kind people keen to take our photo, and I’m not surprised – looking out to sea we spotted a helicopter and remarked that it’s not often you ride your bike higher than helicopters!!

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We followed the coast path for a while then dropped down into the valley. The descents were as steep as the ascents in places and we proceeded slightly cautiously aware that an error would be painful if we were lucky… Another climb, slightly less severe than we’d had previously experienced and we were into the food station – lovely cake, peanuts, drink re-fills and jelly bears :-) We duly abandoned the bikes and tucked in.

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As we paused (briefly) for breath between mouthfuls we became aware of a very battered and bruised looking lass. JB came right out with it “what happened to you then maid?” She had ridden the ladies only ride yesterday and had come unstuck descending – she was black and blue and scraped from head to toe. Her confidence had taken a huge knock and, as we rode away we agreed that there are times when caution is better than brave.

A grind of a climb followed by a short descent and we were onto the last significant climb for our route – it pretty much mirrored the first one, slightly less steep but we regained the 600 feet or so that we’d lost in about 2 miles, thankful we’d made the most of the food station!

At the top JB was waiting for me, again, and a lass on an e-bike cruised past. We had a little “that’s the way to do it” moment with a chap and his son who had stopped to get their breath back, when JB issued a battle cry “after her!” The man chuckled. I knew better and after her we went. And we caught her. And we overtook her. And she stayed overtook!

Then it was time to go back to sea level, descending from 1000 feet in 3.5 miles. Some of this was really steep, JB recognised some of it from Days Gone By, and issued a warning about what happens when brave doesn’t listen to caution. I gave her some space. Then I let two chaps go by – I *really* don’t like folk behind me – and down I went. It was steep, dark, and with sunlight flashing through the trees it was difficult to spot holes and rocks. Then I came upon JB parked up and had a little “oh fuck, what’s happened?” moment :-O, but it just turned out that her Will To Live had won the battle over her Hold Your Nerve at a particularly jaggy rocky bit. We both agreed that caution was the order of the day and rambled the little section, before remounting, smiling for the camera and finishing the hill.

Then a short burst along the road and we were back at race village choosing our t-shirts :-)

All in all a cracking weekend. We tried to rationalise why we enjoyed the weekend – for me the sunshine helped. The routes on both days were challenging and tough but do-able; we decided that it was just one of *those* weekends when it comes together in the right way :-)

Except, when the training log was consulted later, turns out we were short in miles this week and we *really* should round that up.  Crossers out, off we went, in our new t-shirts, determinedly not getting sweaty, but rounding up to the ‘just over’ 100 for the week.

Aaaaaaand relax.


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FAT – Devon Dirt

I’ve had an excellent day.

A couple of weeks ago, JB asked me if I wanted to ride the Devon Dirt with her. I’d tentatively agreed to this a while ago, so readily agreed. Then she said she’d booked us in, and we were doing it on her and MrJB’s FAT bikes. Whoop! I’ve been secretly hanging for a proper go on the FAT for ages. She’d also agreed with the organiser (who she knows from Days Gone By) that we only had to ride the first half, to the lunch stop. 17 miles on the FATs – how hard could that be?

I was duly collected at 8am (well, 7:45am – we don’t do late), and we were off to Ashburton, the start was set for 9:30. At 8:45 we were parked, the bikes were unloaded and we had our helmets, camel-baks and arm warmers on. We were ready.

So we had a coffee, and then got ready again. 😉

We aimed for the back of the start pack, knowing we were slow, mainly due to our engines, but partly because the FATs take some effort on the tarmac uphills.

Once we were off there were a couple of miles of quiet Devon roads, and then a pile up. Well, not a proper pile up. But lots of ‘normal’ MTB-ers stalled at the start of the first trail, which had an exposed rock slope to go up. We let the way clear a bit, pointed the FATs upwards, found a nice low gear and we were off. How easy was this? I couldn’t believe it, the FAT just rolled up the difficult stuff, the only thing I had to do was pedal, the bike took care of everything else, amazing. I was baulked about 20 meters from the top of this first climb by someone tipping off sideways, clipped in. Were it not for that I’d have made the top, something I am pretty sure I couldn’t have done on my hardtail.

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This was the theme for the day, this bike surprised me time after time, it just rolls. It rolls over rocks, mud, puddles, steps… you name it. Where the track was rutted and the wheel caught the edge of the rut, which at best would have been a foot down on the hardtail, the FAT just rolled up it, no bother. Awesome.

The payoff for all this awesomeness is getting them uphill on roads, a small pice to pay (and I think, were I fit, it may not have been such a struggle)

The ride itself was everything I love. Green lanes and bridleways, linked by short road sections. Were I not completely bolloxed come the end, I’d have happily gone around again. Stravia says (and she never lies) we climbed just over 2,000ft in 17 miles, over a well signed and brilliant route.

And I wouldn’t have wanted to ride it with anyone else .