Knobblies is an LBS with a definite angle towards Fat Bikes and mountain biking. They always enter teams in this all night race/festival/rave and luckily for me and “Missy Giove” they couldn’t quite fill all the places this year. Not so luckily for him, MrJB was also seconded because he is “Colon”‘s friend.
It’s a 24 hour race, where the winner is the person or team who rides the most 6-mile-ish laps between midday Saturday and midday Sunday. So you bloody well ride through the night if you want to get anywhere!
Missy and me ended up in the Fun team (might survive/might not) with three fast old men because Chris remembered that I cry if you put me under pressure. We were “Knobblies Fat Tyre Adventures” which, as you might spot in a minute, means the rejects from the following B and A teams.
MrJB was on the fatbike B team with Colon – “Knobblies Fat Fun”
And then there was the Knobblies A team, “Fat Tyre Adventures” composed of their hardest, bestest, bravest MTB riders, and also promoting Chris and Knobblies’ Bike Packing Adventure Tours.
As Knobblies is a bicycle repair shop I thought I’d see if Chris would twiddle my gears so they would shift reliably and improve the team’s chances. He immediately interrogated me about what I’d already fiddled with. “Have you touched the limit screws on the mech?” he asked. “No, only what I could reach while I was riding,” I said. He nodded and started the black magickry. “I didn’t just do it by half a turn either,” I added helpfully. “I can see that,” came the dry response.
We set up in blazing sunshine, far too hot, and started discussing the expected first lap chaos, who will go first? Should be your quickest rider apparently, also there is an extra loop to spread the field. I said several times I didn’t mind going first, because i really didn’t mind, and actually, getting going would be good
Come midday I went and put myself at the back of the field. The pack filled in behind me so I broke out and went to the new back. Then I stuck with my position and they would have to ride around me. There were 429 twelve hour, and 379 twenty-four hour solo riders, pairs and teams riders, some on single speeds, ffs.
The hooter went and MrJB was filming on the first bend. It took one and half minutes for the field of 700-odd riders to pass him, and I was about 50 seconds in, so nicely placed halfway. A bit of meandering through the campsite, proper CX playing field stuff, then out to the first hill where somebody fell off on the narrow gravel climb and half the pack got baulked. Walked. Nice single track along the top, blast down through the field, back into the campsite twisties and out onto the course proper.
River-crossing, remember Colon’s advice, use the bridge, once your feet are wet they stay wet for the next twenty four hours! Up around the whoops then the half mile Clif Climb. Hot, so hot, dusty, no power, walking, dragging my bike with lots of other people. Back on, oh no it goes up again…but I think I can ride this. At the top, kiddies were holding out ready-peeled ice lollies! Why yes, thank you I will, snatched from a tiny outstretched hand as I rode past, scoffed as we continued up the fire road and turned into some single track, more up-up through the woods, lolly gone, still so hot, don’t people die exerting themselves in these temps?
The top was elusive – we snaked down through rooty singletrack and across forestry corrugations (and these got tiresome very quickly) before climbing back up the fire roads to the next technicality. One rooty bank was unrideable if you didn’t get exactly the right line – something to learn – and yet another stayed unrideable (by me) for the entire event.
Finally, after bumming around on top of the hill for a couple of miles doing uppy-downy, nadgery, stoney and rooty stuff, we got a mile of singletrack downhill – worth picking a line to dodge the sharpest, pointiest stones – past the ruined cottage to the river, where another half mile of similarly rooty going, but flat, brought us back into the campsite twisties. Into transition to handover my token to rider two… whose name I hadn’t paid attention to, and whose face I couldn’t remember. Was nearly awkward but luckily Rich remembered what I looked like and it ended well.
The oldest of the fast blokes on our team, Stewart, was full of questions about the course, and I was at pains not to say how hard I’d found it. Interesting, lovely riding, good mix of stuff, oh there’s a bit of a climb early on, some tree roots but they’re not slippery (they weren’t, in the dry…) How much time did I think I could take off as I learnt the course, he asked. “Time off?” I queried. “I always get slower as the day goes on.” He argued with me a bit, saying surely as I learnt the course my times would come down, and I may have got a little offhand with him… As I said to MrJB, “Come Tetchy fucking o’ clock in the morning he’s gonna get a slap, I don’t care how fucking venerable he is..”. It’s fortunate that he wasn’t talking to Missy Giove.
Anyway, subsequent riders coming in were all saying how hard it was, and I raised an eyebrow at MrJB as he prepared to take his lap. Yeh. It was gonna be hard…
Stewart was obviously more competitive than the rest of his team, and insisted we write our lap times on the board in the tent, with a note of the time you got in so we could work out when we were out again. Missy wouldn’t co-operate at all. “I forgot,” she said, and wandered off.
Sadly he latched onto me as a fellow figures-and-data weenie and insisted on telling me The Plan, talking tactics, laps, when to go to transition and I suddenly found myself quite liking the fast old boy…
We all got a hot first lap done – hot as in sunny, not necessarily speedy. MrJB had found the FAT hard work as expected, but he was flying the downhills and passing everybody, partly because the FAT is an awesomely stable and forgiving piece of kit and partly because he’s an idiot with no fear or forethought
I took my token from Stewart (best buddies now) and went out again. The flat campsite seemed needlessly hard as I started, I went over the bridge again and walked the Clif Climb… again… and laboured over the corrugations again… slithered to a stop on a steep rooty climb and stabbed my Neuroma on a pointy rock again… whacked my ankle metal-work on a tree stump… a bit of self-harm… and then the lovely downhill singletrack, the toothy rocks already looking familiar and without the extra couple of miles and extra 200 feet of climbing from the filter-lap I almost enjoyed it. But it was hot and there was very little time to drink, you wanted to be fairly focussed for most of the lap. Thanks to Stewart’s insistence on the board times I could see it would be about three hours before I had to go out again. Something to eat. Cup of tea. No sitting down and resting though, even I though I’ve read the book and know Pro cyclists never stand if they can sit, etc.
I was waiting in transition with MrJB and we were all getting nervy when Ian for the B team was late in… had he gone straight through for a second lap? Punctured? Crashed? Thirty minutes overdue, and he arrived, handed his token to MrJB and fell over. MrJB hesitated, wondering whether to help with the crisis, Chris shoved him out to start his lap and we all stood awkwardly around Ian who was writhing on the floor and not saying anything sensible. Eventually one of us thought to lift the (relatively undamaged) fatbike off him. Even more eventually one of us told him to man-up and got him to walk to the St John’s tent.
They declared him not broken but he’d had a heavy crash and wasn’t all that bright, taking no further part in the race.
My lap times were consistently the slowest in our team, but not that far adrift of Missy’s. The Fast Old Men were all riding 38-40 minutes while Missy and I were turning in 48-50s.
My third lap began at 7.20, so I had my lights attached but not switched on. It was my best, fastest, and most-bits-ridden lap of the entire race. I high-fived all the kiddies around the campsite twisties (disappointingly, none of them were concealing sweeties) walked the usual bit of the Clif Climb but I managed to concentrate through all the nadgery bits and rode the tree roots confidently at any angle, was already on the fast line when the toothy rocks appeared, and didn’t clobber any bodyparts on anything. Came in and handed the token over to Rich, bursting with confidence.
Missy was riding with a calm confidence which I don’t often see in her, in fact she was uncharacteristically self-contained and she put in another good lap just after 9pm, returning in the dark.
With the falling darkness the lovely summer evening we’d just had cooled down and turned to drizzle, then proper rain. Missy reported that the course was getting a bit slippery and there were odd tree roots that she couldn’t ride.
MrJB went and lay down in the van for a zizz. I cleverly ignored the rubber knee warning which I get when I really need to sleep, and hung around in the dark, waiting. It felt rather like war – long periods of boredom punctuated by short spells of terror.
Transition at night was a wet, dark, lonely place. Many teams had decided to sleep through the darkest bit, and the solo 24 hour guys were just banging out laps without ever coming in.
Waiting for Stewart in transition I got talking to Trish. She had been taken out by a faster rider who crashed into her from behind and wasn’t sure how many more laps she could do. (I was keeping a very wary ear out for faster riders approaching, and yelling at them to Hang on, I would get out of the way…. Mostly, they seemed to accept it) One of Trish’s team-mates had gone to A&E to have hand-sized flap of skin syringed clean and sewn back down, after being terrorised into a ditch by a faster rider. But she was part of team Muzzy and they were desperate to finish the full 24 hours for him.
Missy and I had spent some time weeping on the phone when our incredible friend Muzzy died last autumn. He had already done his 24 hour solo entry (on his singlespeed because he was wired up special that way) when he died and the Welly Wheelers planned to flood the event as a tribute to Muzzy. Mrs Muzzy was riding the solo womens 12 hour then carrying straight on as part of the 24 hour womens team, really putting herself through it.
Trish talked about just riding the 12 hour women’s team next year, and really going for it. I wasn’t feeling like I never wanted to be here again and I must have sounded too interested, because she said, “Stay in touch and we’ll sort something out.” Well, if I don’t answer my phone she can’t tie me down to anything
At 23.25 I recognised Stewart’s racing crouch coming back through the rain into the floodlights, ran to the bike rack to switch on my Garmin (only later realising I’d completely missed the switch in the dark) back to grab the token from him and away through the silent and darkened campsite on a lonely and deserted route…
But what’s this? My light was utterly crap. This isn’t right – I’ve ridden night MTB races before, I LOVE it, what’s going on? Ah… this isn’t my light. Over the bridge and into the woods, and now I found I’d forgotten how to ride. I was slow, jerky, nervous, waiting to fall off. I didn’t have to wait long.
At the top I had a word with myself and rode hard at the first root bank with a predictable result. Cue swearing and wriggling out from under the bike. The light approaching obviously recognised the language, “Is that you ninjading?” It was Colon. “Alright?” he added as he rode past with no suggestion of stopping if I wasn’t. I was fine, merely having a strop. I pushed me and the bike away from the roots and got back on. Missed. Fell over. It really had fallen apart. More furious swearing. “You tell it, love,” said a passing light and I managed to laugh. It was utterly ridiculous, and let’s face it I was gonna get back down eventually
The corrugations were so effing hard to ride in this state. I kept stopping to let faster riders through, “Yes, yes, I’m fine thanks, please go through,” and every time I came to rooty sections I was just too scared to try riding. My Kanadias didn’t grip any better than my Conti-Kings, and there was much more mud/backside interface.
I realise now that I was just too tired to function, never mind ride anything vaguely technical.
I nambied down the Cottage Descent, picking an edgy line between the toothy rocks, and even after I was on the flat river track I still had to get off and push over the odd-angled, flat, tree roots. Back through the silent, dark, wet campsite twisties, handed over to Rich and went back to camp.
MrJB had breakfasted on pizza and coffee and was about to go out into the dark night. I told him I wasn’t going out again until daylight, adding that I would use a different light next time. Except, of course, I wasn’t going out again.
I finished the breakfast pizza, and as he left I crawled into my sleeping bag in the van still in my wet muddy kit, and stretched out to doze. I snapped suddenly alert 45 minutes later when MrJB came back in off his lap and embedded himself in the other sleeping bag. He started snoring I gave up and went back out to the campfire, which warmed and dried one side of me while the rain kept the other side cool and damp.
But look, now I’d had a lie-down, I’d eaten and adjusted my expectations, and I’d changed my light for a more familiar one, so even if it meant another walky lap like I’d just done, it was survivable. Knowing I’d be slow again anyway, I stuffed the camera in my jersey pocket because night riding in the woods is (usually) so amazing that I wanted to show you all what it’s like.
Everybody’s laps were taking longer, a combination of the darkness and the tricky conditions, which meant more waiting between rides, but eventually I went back to the dark, deserted transition to wait for Stewart.
Just before 4 am I saw him approaching the floodlights. I ran across to switch on my Garmin – and actually did it this time – grabbed the token and set out through the dead campsite.
At least I could see a bit more this time, and I was now riding with the acceptance that I was tired and my reactions weren’t there. I rode to my target tree on the Clif Climb, and got off to push. Half way up, this –
You remember that lynx who escaped from the Dartmoor Zoo – which is five miles away – a couple of weeks ago? He still hasn’t been recaptured, but I would suggest that he’s doing okay
Back on the bike, a cheery word from the marshal at the top and on into the single track, still climbing, picking very careful lines and avoiding all tree roots. I didn’t even attempt to ride my Nemesis-roots and pushed until I was well clear of them! However I manned up enough to ride the second rooty bank successfully for the first time. Yay! Go me, in the dark and the wet too!
This was more like it, this was the dark riding that I love, and had expected.
Then the Cottage Descent, not riding too stupidly and giving myself plenty of time to respond to the dragon’s teeth as they appeared. Sleep deprivation though, heh, you almost welcome the hallucinations – well hello, its you – and the old man standing alone by the ruined cottage had me freaked for a moment until I recognised him as the product of a brain which needed sleep
I rolled out of the woods onto the bottom track as it was getting light. Also… I’d stopped getting wetter; it must have stopped raining. This has to be good. Returning through the campsite twisties, the duty cheerleader said sleepily from an anonymous tent, “Well done, keep going”
I handed over to Rich and returned to camp, where MrJB was up and getting ready, and he could see immediately that I’d had a better ride.
Missy had retreated to her tent wearing a variety of stolen blankets and earplugs, and it was my mission to wake her when I got back in… I’d barely had time to get two coffees before she arose from the deep, looking marvellous as you only can when you’ve gone to bed wet and haven’t slept well
I’d intended to try for a second zizz but it was getting properly light and I decided against it. I’d got to the dull point where you can carry on for hours without getting any worse. Or any better, it has to be said.
My rubber knees had gone away (I was surprised to see dried blood on my legs?) and the campsite was returning to life. You could see where the sun would be if the clouds weren’t in the way. It was more or less dry. The sanitation trucks arrived to hose out the Dunnies! There was a scramble to use them while they were still, er, fresh, and had paper
Missy went out for her first daylight lap, and had some trouble with the flickering trees as a migraine trigger. She often faints with migraines which makes the whole situation worse as you can imagine. It was lucky that Bill, a Muzzy-friend, rode past – or rather DIDN’T ride past – and nursed her around her lap. (No, she wasn’t going to stop just because she was dying on her arse, my Missy Giove is made of sterner stuff than that )
I sipped tea and sat close to the still rumbling campfire, doing some encouraging maths which suggested we would each only have time for one more lap. Stewart would get the glory lap, the one where you ride through the finish arch after midday to cheers from the crowd and get your name read out by the commentator. He seemed pleased with the idea.
My final lap started at 8.10, and with a four hour gap between rides I was confident I wouldn’t be out again. It was still wet and slightly treacherous in the woods. I had a stab at riding the nemesis roots and got a bloodied elbow for my trouble, BUT by focusing harder than I ever have in my life I managed to ride the second rooty bank again. And the bloody corrugations, it was such an effort to turn the pedals over… Then the hard work was done and it was downhill all the way home.
Riding confidently but steadily down the Cottage Descent for the last time, the old man of the woods was gone (like he’d ever been there) and I burst back out to the river where the marshal was fast asleep in her chair, head back, mouth open. It had been a long night and I could empathise
I still walked the tree roots on the flat river track, then I was out into the campsite field where blurry figures were huddled around like refugees on the wet grass. The track was running fast here and felt good, and some of the campers raised a smile and an encouraging wave for the riders coming through.
I rode into our camp with a big grin, I’d done all the laps I had time for and I was alive: the Strumpet hadn’t let me down in the middle of the deepest darkest night (although it sounded mechanically rather nasty now). I felt rather epic at having got around a pretty tough event.
I got to work with the baby wipes and put on my one remaining dry t-shirt and shorts, a signal that I was done. “I’m sure we could find you another lap,” Chris said thoughtfully. Given that he’d done one dark lap early on then retreated to his van to sleep through the night, he nearly got the slap I’d originally reserved for Stewart.
The A Team had worked out that they had a comfortable lead in the Vet Mens Team – unassailable so long as they all finished their next laps… but just to put it beyond reach MrJB went bravely out and did a 7th lap, getting back at 11.48, just permitting (the Other) Ian to get out on a final lap before the cut-off.
The rain came back, heavy this time, but we’d have to stay for the presentations, so we started to pack up what we could for a quick getaway afterwards. Now the action was over I was struggling again and even simple tasks, like picking things up and putting them away, were proving beyond me
Missy was cold and wet and maybe a little withdrawn, and when the last wet riders were in, and we were called for presentations she wrapped herself in my only dry fleece, and went to sleep in the van. Tony and Stewart left early to take Tony to A&E after he face-planted on the campsite twisties on his last lap. TwentyFour12 having the last word
Mrs Muzzy got a podium in the solo womens 12 hour and was on the winning team for the womens 24 hour team: such a shame Muzzy himself couldn’t have seen it.
There were so many categories that we did well NOT to win a prize We were 6th out of 10 mixed teams with a fairly tame 30 laps between us. MrJB’s team was 5th out of 11 in the Mens Vet Team, with each of them riding one more lap than we had. And the Knobblies A team won the Mens Vets with 40 laps over 24 hours, 4 laps clear of second place.
See – Stewart was right when he identified me as a harmless stats-weenie